Those seeking to stop the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) from turning an unfinished community center into a Class II tribal gambling facility on Martha’s Vineyard will have to wait for a ruling, according to a federal judge.
Judge Dennis Saylor heard arguments from the state, town of Aquinnah, and Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association who are suing to block the plan by the Aquinnah Wampanoags. Attorneys for all involved argued the scope and relevance to the current case, of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and the 1987 decision by Congress to place in trust 485 acres of tribal land. The National Indian Gaming Commission had already approved the tribe’s gaming ordinance when the Aquinnah tribe was sued by the commonwealth in December 2013, two years after Massachusetts passed an expanded gambling law which authorized as many as three resort casinos.
Being a federally recognized tribe, the Aquinnah Wampanoags say they are allowed to operate certain types of gambling.
Attorneys for opponents of the gambling hall would have to distinguish the case from an old one where Rhode Island was required to enter into “good faith negotiations” with the Narragansett Indian Tribe regarding a gaming compact, according to Judge Saylor. The IGRA “implied repeal” of any restrictions on gaming argued attorney for the tribe, Scott Crowell. Ronald Rappaport, Aquinnah’s town council argued that it wouldn’t make sense for Congress to bypass a law it had just created, and that gambling is prohibited by the town on the land in question.
The 6,500 square foot building envisioned for a gambling hall was originally intended to be a community center. It was built with taxpayer money in 2004 and 2005 by two teams of Air Force reservists, and has sat dormant since. In order to re-purpose the building the tribe would to repay costs associated with construction. On July 28 work on the facility was ordered to cease by Judge Saylor until today’s matter could be settled. If allowed to move forward with the project approximately $1.2 million in grant money appropriated for the community center would be shouldered by the tribe.
However the tribe has been heavily divided over whether to offer any form of gambling. According to Indian country media, a referendum vote has been set for Sunday August 16th to challenge the decision to pursue the casino plan. 70 signatures had been gathered in support of a vote as of yesterday. The tribe has previously passed a referendum in support of the idea as well as fended off another initiative to overturn that referendum.