BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts officials have sought dismissal of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a provision in the state's casino gambling law that gave preference to a native American tribe over private developers.
In a motion filed Tuesday the state argued the lawsuit brought by KG Urban Enterprises is now moot because the Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently voted to open up the disputed southeast region to commercial developers.
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has proposed a resort casino in Taunton but faces several ongoing hurdles including the need for federal approval of a land-in-trust application and legislative approval of a revised compact with Gov. Deval Patrick's administration.
The 2011 casino law allows for up to three resort casinos in separate geographical regions of the state. But the Legislature carved out an exception in the southeast region, giving initial preference to a federally-recognized tribe. The same law, however, allowed the gaming commission discretion to open the region to commercial applicants if it determined that the tribe would likely be unsuccessful in its pursuit of federal or state approvals.
KG, which hopes to build a casino in New Bedford, filed suit in U.S. District Court claiming the state violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by giving preference to the tribe. A federal judge denied KG's bid for an injunction but the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals later reinstated the constitutional challenge and returned it to the district court for further review.
In its motion to dismiss, the state noted an April 18 vote by the commission to open the southeast region to commercial casino applicants, and a possible vote by the panel on Thursday to set a timetable for accepting bids from private developers.
That made continuation of the lawsuit a moot point, the state argued.
Andrew Paven, a spokesman for KG, said the company would not comment immediately on the state's motion but would file a response with the court within two weeks.
The Mashpee's land-in-trust bid is clouded by a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that limits land taking for tribes that were not under federal jurisdiction before 1934. The Mashpee received federal recognition in 2007.
Some legal experts predict years of legal wrangling over the process, but the tribe insists it is on track to begin construction of a casino by next year.