A federal judge is being asked by the state of Massachusetts and a tribe descending from the first inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard to rule on whether the Aquinnah Wampanoags can build a casino on tribal lands there.
Martha’s Vineyard is a fair weather playground for the rich and famous that sees little traffic during inclement weather. The Aquinnah Wampanoags have about 485 acres of tribal land on the western side of the island and want to convert an unfinished community center there into a gambling hall.
The tribe maintains that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows them to offer gaming and they say that claim is supported by recent legal analysis by other federal authorities – referring to the Department of Interior and National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC).
The state’s position is that the tibe forfeited their right to offer gaming when it settled for the land with the state back in 1983. According to Massachusetts the tribe agreed at that time to become subject to state and local laws in effect when the agreement was signed. The agreement has been approved by the state and Congress.
The tribe is being sued to stop them from offering games of chance such as electronic bingo machines that function like slot machines. The town of Aquinnah and a community association there are also suing the tribe. The state filed its lawsuit in December 2013.
Each side has asked a federal judge to settle the matter before it goes to trial. A hearing is scheduled for August 12 in Boston.
Not all tribal members are in favor of the casino. The tribal enrollment is about 1,200 with most of them living on the mainland. A vote was held last year that narrowly approved of continnued evelopment of the plan.
The Aquinnah Wampanoags should not be confused with the Mashpee Wampanoags whose frustrations related to a stymied casio project on the island have appeared in the news periodically of late.
In 2011 Massachusetts lawmakers approved legislation to allow three casino resorts and a slots parlor. Those licenses have been granted in all but the southeastern region where New Bedford and Brockton are vying for the final nod. At that time former Governor Deval Patrick worked with the Mashpee Wampanoag to build a casino in Taunton, but failed to negotiate with the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe. The Mashpees have yet to receive federal approval for their First Light Resort and Casino project.
The current Governor and Attorney General came into office with the lawsuit in progess and have not yet commented on the matter.