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STURBRIDGE, MA-Town officials here do not want an American Indian tribe to develop a casino here and have started–along with neighboring towns–to take measures to prevent it from succeeding. Selectmen here have voted to oppose any casino in this area and have joined a local coalition being formed to fight the possibility.

According to town administrator James Malloy, the Nipmuc Indians are interested in siting a casino on 300 acres that straddle this town and Union, CT with the bulk of the property–225 acres–in Sturbridge. The Pontbriand family currently owns the land but the Nipmucs have an option to purchase it. Malloy tells GlobeSt.com that George Pontbriand claims the option was secured through a third party and he had no idea to whom he was granting the option.

In nearby Southbridge, the town council is expected to vote shortly on a resolution opposing a casino in this area. Reportedly, the town will also look into a strategy to negotiate impact fees if a gaming facility is built. In Charlton, another neighboring town, selectmen soon will hold their first discussion on the potential impact of a casino. Malloy says that Sturbridge just sent a “sent a flurry of letters asking their congressmen to get involved” in the issue.

What is at stake, area residents believe, is the very nature of their communities, which, according to Malloy, will be irrevocably altered by the presence of a gaming venue in their midst. “It would change everything,” he says. The Nipmucs have reportedly recently signed a seven-year agreement with a Minnesota casino management company and are awaiting word from the federal government on whether they will receive federal recognition as a tribe. Without the recognition, they cannot build the casino.

One of the ways residents are attempting to prevent the casino is by getting involved in the Nipmucs quest for federal recognition. During the Clinton administration’s final days, the Nipmucs received a preliminary positive finding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But the Bush administration put the decision on hold. Meanwhile, this town filed for interested party status, which confers the right to submit comments on the recognition process. Malloy contends that the BIA’s Bureau of Acknowledgment and Research recommended against recognition for the Nipmucs but their finding was somehow reversed. “There was something fishy about the positive finding,” points out Malloy. “We would question the process that was used. We want our Congressmen to get involved.”

Malloy notes that the town’s concerns are the impacts of a casino, such as traffic, crime and domestic violence. “Those are all the problems they face in Connecticut,” he points out. “And it’s not just our town that is concerned, it’s all the towns in the region.” In Connecticut, 20 towns have banded together to fight the casino and have asked towns across the state to join them. Connecticut already allows gaming casinos. If the Nipmucs decided to locate a casino here, it would have to negotiate with the state. Malloy says that if the Nipmucs received recognition the state’s next tack would be to oppose gaming legislation. But that doesn’t cover all the bases. “One of our big fears is that they would put it in Connecticut and we’d get the access issues and the impact but none of the tax revenues,” says Malloy. “But the revenues that would come in wouldn’t be enough money to restore our community.

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