In this photo from August 2014, the unfinished tribal community center sits on the Aquinnah Wampanoag reservation. The state and the tribe are asking a federal judge to settle whether the tribe can turn the unfinished community center into a gambling house on the famous resort island. A hearing on the request is set for Aug. 12. Philip Marcelo, Associated Press File
A corporation representing the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is moving ahead with turning a tribal community center into a gaming facility, according to a representative of the corporation.
This stone marks the entrance to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head property, which includes the tribe's headquarters, housing and community center where the casino is planned. Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod
By MARY ANN BRAGG
Posted Jul. 5, 2015
AQUINNAH — A corporation representing the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is moving ahead with turning a tribal community center into a gaming facility, according to a representative of the corporation. A federal lawsuit is pending on whether gaming is allowed on the tribe’s 485 acres, however, and a town official and a tribe member questioned the plans on Friday as well.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag Gaming Corporation, established by the tribe to run gaming facilities, plans to install electronic bingo at the community center, corporation representative Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said Friday. She confirmed the corporation is moving ahead with the plans based on federal approvals and tribal regulations, she said.
“We’ve always been moving forward,” Andrews-Maltais said.
Tribal Council Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop did not respond to requests for comment.
The 6,200 square-foot community center is owned by the tribe but control of it was assigned to the corporation a few weeks ago, Andrews-Maltais said. Any construction related to conversion of the building into a gaming facility would be within the existing footprint, she said.
The goal of the gaming facility is to raise revenue to provide services for tribe members, both on and off the island, and generate more year-round economic growth on the island, Andrews-Maltais said. A gaming facility would infuse more money into the island’s hotels and restaurants, and create more year-round jobs, she said.
Dukes County, which includes Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, has about 17,000 year-round residents. About 300 of the tribe’s 1,200 members live on Martha’s Vineyard, Andrews-Maltais said.
The Wampanoag tribe is not proposing to offer casino table games like blackjack, craps and roulette.
“I know we will be meeting to discuss the tribe’s plan to move forward,” Aquinnah Selectman Juli Vanderhoop said Friday. The town hasn’t received any paperwork about the use of the community center as a gaming facility, she said. That type of use would violate the town’s zoning bylaws, she said.
The selectmen will meet Monday morning in executive session to discuss legal issues related to the tribe’s plans, based on what town officials know from newspaper accounts and other information, Selectman Jim Newman said.
There has been increased activity around the center, according to a July 2 story in the Vineyard Gazette. Also, a classified advertisement appeared in the Gazette seeking licensed electricians and helpers for a “10+ week commercial Aquinnah Casino project starting July 6.”
Andrews-Maltais confirmed that the corporation did run the help-wanted newspaper ad for the construction planned at the community center.
“I don’t know what the plan is,” Aquinnah resident Beverly Wright said Friday. “I am a tribal member. They have not kept the tribal membership informed. I do know they are planning on trying to turn it into a casino.”
Wright said Friday that while she supports the tribe’s business plans for gaming generally, she is opposed to gaming on the island. “It just flies in the face of what we have all worked so hard for, and especially our elders that bore the brunt of living here, to keep our land sacred,” Wright said. “It can be a business for us but it can’t be a business here on the Vineyard.”
Logistically, the two-lane roads, the heavy summer traffic and the small amount of land the tribe owns only adds to the reasons to oppose gaming on the tribe’s island property, Wright said.
The tribal lands are located in the remote southwestern corner of Martha’s Vineyard.
A referendum to ban gaming on the tribe’s island land failed by few votes a year ago, but a second similar petition with 74 signatures was filed two weeks ago with tribal leaders, who have 50 days to act, Wright said.
Meanwhile, in a federal court case filed in 2013,the state of Massachusetts and the tribe have asked a federal judge to settle whether the tribe can build a casino on the island. In court records, the tribe says the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act permits them to offer certain types of gambling because they are a federally recognized tribe with jurisdiction over about 485 acres in Aquinnah. They say recent legal analysis from other federal authorities support that claim.
The state counters the tribe specifically forfeited the right to offer gambling when it reached a settlement with Massachusetts for those lands in 1983. The agreement stipulates the tribe was subject to local and state laws in effect at that time. It was subsequently approved by state lawmakers and Congress.
Massachusetts, joined by the town of Aquinnah and a local community association, is suing the tribe. Each side has asked the judge to decide the case on the arguments rather than take it to trial, and a hearing is set for Aug. 12 in Boston.