Town secures temporary restraining order to stop tribe project
By The Associated Press
Posted Jul. 28, 2015 at 9:34 PM
BOSTON — A federal judge has ordered a Martha's Vineyard tribe to stop work on a gambling hall on the island.
U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor ruled Tuesday in favor of the town of Aquinnah, which sought a temporary restraining order against the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to stop the construction.
Earlier this month, the federally recognized tribe started converting an unfinished community center into a gambling hall, where it intended to offer electronic, bingo-style games. Tribal officials had said they hoped to open the facility by the fall.
But the town says the tribe should wait until a lawsuit filed by the state, the town and a local community association challenging the tribe's plans is decided. Saylor hears arguments in that case Aug. 12.
The tribe counters that the gambling hall is on sovereign, tribal land and not subject to local law.
The 1,200-member tribe owns 485 acres in the southwestern corner of the Vineyard, in the town of Aquinnah, but only about 300 members live on the island.
Though the community center underwent a multiyear town regulatory permitting process, the new proposed use of the building for electronic bingo has not, and must do so, according to the town. The tribe contends it announced in 2013 plans to move ahead with a Class II gaming facility on its land on the island, and that it admitted so to town officials in October 2014 as well, according to a statement sent to the Times July 14 by the Aquinnah Wampanoag Gaming Corp., an affiliate of the tribe. In the statement, the corporation wrote that the tribe has federal approvals in place that allow it to proceed and called the motion for a restraining order a “minor distraction from the merits of the respective position of the Tribe and the United States on one side, and the Commonwealth, the homeowners association and the town on the other.”
Class II gaming includes bingo but does not include card games or slot machines.
After the tribe ignored a cease-and-desist order sent July 6 by a town assistant building inspector and appeared to be moving forward with construction on the gambling hall, the town sought the restraining order granted by Saylor on Tuesday as part of an existing federal case brought in 2013 by the state against the tribe, the tribal council and the gaming corporation.
Tribe members are scheduled to vote Aug. 16 on a petition brought by some tribe members to stop the conversion of the community center building to a gaming facility. A referendum vote by tribe members to ban gaming on the tribe’s island land failed by a few votes a year ago, reflecting a split among tribe members over the issue.
“I expected it,” former tribe Chairwoman Beverly Wright said about the judge’s decision. “It was ill-timed that they started the construction before the ruling. The gaming corporation should have waited.”
Wright said she didn't have a problem with the tribe doing gaming as economic development but didn't think it should be done “on our homeland.”
“It’s situated right near our elders and there are children nearby,” she said.
Tribe Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop and Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the gaming corporation and former tribe chairwoman, did not respond to a message seeking comment for this story.
— Staff writers Mary Ann Bragg and Kerri Kelleher contributed to this story.