Meetings & Information


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Federal judge issues ruling against tribal casino on Martha's Vineyard

Federal judge issues ruling against tribal casino on Martha's Vineyard
A federal judge on Friday rejected a bid by the Aquinnah Wampanoag Indiansto open a casino on Martha's Vineyard, saying the tribe's failure to ...

  • Federal judge in Boston enjoined tribe from construction work on casino 
  • in Aquinnah. Arguments on the main case will be heard August 12.
  • Maria Thibodeau

Federal Judge Allows 


Temporarily Halting 

Work on Aquinnah 


  • A federal judge today enjoined the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) from any construction activity on a planned gambling facility.
    After a 50-minute hearing in Boston, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor 4th ruled that the town of Aquinnah had met its legal burden to gain a preliminary injunction.
    While the judge said the town had prevailed, he was also careful to say his decision should not be interpreted as an indication of how he will rule on the underlying case — whether the tribe can build a class II casino on its land in Aquinnah. That issue will be argued before the judge on August 12.
    Judge Saylor did indicate that even if he eventually rules that the tribe is legally entitled to build a casino, “it’s going to have to acquire a building permit” from the town.
    Tribal leaders who attended the hearing, held in the federal courthouse in Boston Tuesday afternoon, expressed disappointment in the ruling but said they were confident that ultimately their bid to build the casino will be successful.
    “We’re looking forward to arguments on the merits of the case,” said Cheryl Andrews Maltais, who heads the tribal gaming corporation. “We’re going to stay focused on that.”
    Tribal chairman Tobias Vanderhoop said he feels “our argument is strong. Once everything is heard, we will prevail.”
    The town sought the federal court order to preserve the status quo until Judge Saylor could rule on the overarching issue in the federal lawsuit pitting the town, the state and a community group against the tribe.
    The town had sought the preliminary injunction, arguing that the tribe doesn’t have the unilateral right to reject town oversight while the judge is considering the issue.
    “Until this court declares otherwise, the status quo is that the tribe must comply with town zoning and land-use laws, and this status quo be maintained,” town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport said in a memorandum filed with the court.
    Addressing a legal requirement to gain the court order, Mr. Rappaport said in court filings that failing to halt construction “will cause irreparable injury to the town, outweighing any possible injury to the tribal defendants” if a court order is issued.
    That includes the tribe’s “decision to flout specific laws intended to protect public safety” through building inspections and the permitting process. The tribe has acknowledged it has no building inspector or health agent of its own, according to town’s motion.
    Tribal leaders countered that they have the right to proceed with the casino project without state or local approval, and that every day lost because of a court order would deprive the tribe of revenue to support its health care, housing, social services and other vital programs.
    In documents filed Monday, tribal leaders said they plan to have the building inspected by their own certified and licensed inspectors, to ensure the health and safety of patrons. The conversion work on the community center, said Mrs. Andrews-Maltais, would be performed to comply with tribal and federal standards, as well as those of the 2009 International Building Code.
    Mr. Vanderhoop, the tribal chairman, said in a separate filing that tribe currently has no economic base and is almost entirely dependent on the federal government for support. It is his fiduciary duty as tribal chairman, he said, to explore revenue sources to benefit the membership.
    “The development of a gaming operation is the best option we currently have to create a revenue stream outside of federal funding,” he said in the court filing.
    The legal fight intensified early this month when Mr. Vanderhoop testified in a deposition in the case that the tribe did not need town and state approval. He and Mrs. Andrews-Maltais later told the Gazette that they planned for the facility to be open for business by the end of the year, if not sooner.
    Town selectman then voted to issue a cease and desist letter, in part because using the building as a casino violates town zoning. The tribe rejected the letter’s directive, saying the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 empowers it to operate a gaming facility in the tribal building, regardless of state and local bans.
    Since then, the casino project has been a lightning rod for opponents within the tribe, as well as those in Aquinnah and beyond.
    In a petition drive, tribal members have gained enough signatures to force a vote on the class II facility at the tribe’s general membership meeting in August.
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