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Saturday, August 1, 2015

High stakes in fight over island casino

High stakes in fight over island casino

Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) estimates nearly $5M in annual revenue from gambling hall

By George Brennan

Posted Aug. 1, 2015 at 2:00 AM
Updated at 7:02 AM 

The Wampananoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) expects to see revenues of up to $4.9 million per year if a federal judge allows it to open a gambling hall in the tiny Martha’s Vineyard town, according to a court document.
It’s the first window into how much the tribe expects to make from its Class II facility, which will feature electronic bingo games that look and feel like slot machines.
The $4.9 million estimate is modest compared to the $200 million that Plainridge Park Casino, the state’s lone operating casino, expects to take in its first year. Plainridge generated $6.1 million in revenue in its first week of operation, according to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
But the $4.5 million projected for the tribe from the facility in the first year would be a 64 percent increase over the tribe's roughly $7 million annual budget, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Gaming Corporation, said Friday.
The tribe’s existing revenue comes from federal grants, some of them geared toward specific uses like health care, tribal council Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop said Friday. Those funds aren’t enough to provide services like education, housing and youth programs to all of the tribe’s 1,269 members, he said.
“(The grants) are not adequate to extend services to those who live beyond Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. All but about 300 members live off the island.
“We hear through the grapevine people saying, `Why can’t you do a bike shop or general store?’ How can you run a government on that?'” Andrews-Maltais said.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor allowed a temporary restraining order halting construction of the gambling facility in an unfinished community center on the tribe’s reservation.
Saylor is expected to hear arguments Aug. 12 in the overarching case of whether the Aquinnah tribe has the same rights as other federally-recognized tribes under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The state and town of Aquinnah have tried to block the tribe from opening a casino, saying a land settlement agreement finalized in 1987 prohibits gambling, but the tribe has opinions from federal agencies saying the Indian casino laws supersede that deal.
The tribe turned its attention to its island headquarters after then-Gov. Deval Patrick refused to negotiate a compact for a mainland casino.
The revenue projections for the tribe, which are $4.5 million in the first year and increase to $4.9 million in the third year, were done by Klas Robinson, a Minnesota-based consulting firm that has done extensive work in Indian gaming, according to the company’s web site.
“It’s not out of the ballpark,” said Clyde Barrow, a casino expert who has watched the Bay State market closely. 
The island casino could benefit from the tourism industry, though it’s not likely to draw any more visitors to Martha’s Vineyard, Barrow said.
“It wouldn’t be a destination,” he said. “People who are there and have already been to the beach and shops might say, ‘Let’s go check out the casino for a while.’”
Because it's a Class II facility, the tribe wouldn't have to share any revenue with the state, under federal law.
A tribe referendum is scheduled for Aug. 16 to either reaffirm or reject previous approvals to use the center for gambling. 
“At the end of the day, the will of our people will be heard and we will move in the direction they decide,” Vanderhoop said.

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