BOSTON (AP) — A federal appeals court partially reinstated a lawsuit against the state's casino law brought by a developer seeking to build a casino in New Bedford, adding a potential new legal wrinkle to efforts by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to develop a resort casino in Taunton.
In a ruling issued Wednesday, the three-judge panel declined to issue an injunction sought by KG Urban Enterprises against the portion of the law that has given the tribe exclusive rights — at least for now — to develop a gambling facility in the southeastern portion of the state.
But Chief Judge Sandra Lynch and the two other judges on the panel asked U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton to revisit the company's claim that the exclusivity arrangement violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and puts the region at a competitive disadvantage to other parts of Massachusetts in developing a casino.
Gorton had earlier dismissed the lawsuit, filed by KG after the casino law passed in November.
The appeals court said in its ruling that the equal protection argument was "fit for judicial review" while also acknowledging "difficulties" with arguments offered by attorneys for the company and the state in the lawsuit and later appeal of the lower court ruling.
The appeals court said it saw no reason at this time to overturn Gorton's dismissal of an injunction for KG, saying the company faced no immediate risk of being hurt because the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was likely still months away from soliciting bids for commercial casino licenses.
Still, KG's managing director, Andrew Stern, said in a statement that the partial reinstatement of the lawsuit was a "victory for all of the citizens of (New Bedford) and the region."
The state Legislature beat a July 31 deadline under the law by approving a casino compact negotiated by Gov. Deval Patrick's administration and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which has proposed the $500 million casino on a 146-acre industrial site in Taunton.
But the tribe still faces other legal hurdles before it can proceed with the plan, most notably the requirement that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approve a land-in-trust application for the Mashpee, which has no tribal lands of its own.
The company, in its complaint, pointed to a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said the government could not take land into trust for tribes that weren't under federal jurisdiction before 1934. The Mashpee achieved federal recognition in 2007, but legal analysts have differed over the meaning of "jurisdiction" in the 2009 decision.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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