A community center that has been unused for a long time, owned by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, cannot be used as a gambling hall according to a recent ruling by a United States District Court Judge. Judge F. Dennis Saylor ruled in a 40 page decision that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 does not overrule the Settlement Act of 1983, signed by the leaders of the tribe and ratified by the legislature of the state in 1985 and then Congress two years later.

In the settlement agreement, it stated that the tribe was to adhere to local and state laws as well as zoning regulations that were in effect at the time. There has been a longstanding relationship in legal terms between the community of Marth’s Vineyard and the tribe.

Judge Saylor took a long look at the case, covering all issues, and found in summary that the tribe has not met their burden of demonstrating that they exercise sufficient ‘governmental power’ over the settlement lands. Because of this, the IGRA cannot be applied. Saylor also stated that it is clear to him that the IGRA did not repeal the Massachusetts Settlement Act by implication. Therefore, the tribe does not have the right to build a gaming venue on the settlement lands without having to comply with the laws in conjunction with the town and Commonwealth.

The community center has 6,500 square feet of space and was intended to be just that, a gathering spot. The venue now was going to be a bingo hall after siting dormant for many years. The tribe did not consider finishing the building until Governor Deval Patrick signed an expanded gaming law in 2011 that would give three licenses for creating a casino in the state of Massachusetts. The tribe then tried to finish the building and get in on the gaming action.

By May of 2011, the Gay Head Tribe had voted to turn the facility into a Class 2 gaming venue. The vote showed there was a split between the mainland and Island residents of the tribe and another vote took place in 2012, with the same outcome.

In 2013, the Governor blocked the tribe from providing gaming in their community center venue with the case moving on to federal court with the city of Aquinnah, the Commonwealth and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association joining in.

In the end, Judge Saylor stated that the lawsuit was not about advising legalized gambling or the proper option for Marth’s Vineyard land development or how to preserve the heritage of the island. The role of the court is to distinguish between the law and Saylor determined the tribe is unable to use the venue for gambling at this time.

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