Federal judge denies Vineyard tribe's bingo hall plan
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) have lost the latest battle over whether it can move forward with a bingo hall on Martha's Vineyard.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) wants to turn this unfinished tribal community center into a bingo hall.(AP Photo/Philip Marcelo, File)
By Ethan Genter
AQUINNAH — The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) have lost the latest battle over whether it can move forward with a bingo hall on Martha's Vineyard.
A federal judge ruled Friday that the tribe had not shown sufficient evidence it had the right to exercise “governmental power” over settlement lands, and therefore must follow state and town rules. The tribe has asserted that since they are a federally recognized tribe, it should be allowed to have certain types of gambling on tribe-controlled land under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor IV wrote that federal law does not apply to settlement land, which the town, the Taxpayer’s Association of Gay Head Inc., and tribe agreed on in 1983. In the agreement, the tribe took control of 485 acres of land, and relinquished all claims to other lands and waters in the state.
“The Tribe agreed that the Settlement Lands would be ‘subject to all Federal, State, and local laws, including Town zoning laws,’” according to the statement of facts in Taylor’s 40-page decision.
“Accordingly, the tribe cannot build a gaming facility on the Settlement Lands without complying with the laws and regulations of the Commonwealth and the Town,” he wrote in his conclusion.
The 6,200-square-foot community center the tribe planned to convert into a gambling facility is owned by the tribe, but is under the control of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Gaming Corp., corporation representative Cheryl Andrews-Maltais told the Times in past interviews. Andrews-Maltais was not immediately available for comment Friday night.
Court administrator for Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Court Michael Blanton said he hadn't heard about the decision before being told by a Times reporter Friday, but called the news “very disappointing.”
The idea of gambling on the island has divided the tribe. In August, a resolution was put before tribal members asking if they wished to continue with the bingo hall plans. The vote was 110 in favor and 110 against.
According to Saylor’s order, in 1986 the president of the Wampanoag Tribal Council testified before Congress that: “We recognize and accept that no gaming on our lands is now or will be in the future possible.”
But the gambling hall is a way to close the economic gap experienced by the tribe, Andrews-Maltais has said.
“This is the only way that we feel we can close the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” she told the Associated Press in August. “It's time for folks to begin looking at our resources as shared resources.”
The tribe is expected to appeal Saylor’s decision, which the judge wrote was based on “two fairly narrow issues: whether the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act applies to the land in question and whether the tribe exercises jurisdiction and governmental power over the land, and second, whether the law overrides an earlier law.
“Whether an Indian Tribe should be permitted to operate a casino on Martha’s Vineyard is a matter of considerable public interest, and the question touches upon a variety of complex and significant policy issues,” he wrote.
But the lawsuit was neither about legalized gambling, nor development on the island, Saylor wrote.
“The role of the Court here is a narrow one, and it expresses no opinion of any kind about the broader issues underlying the dispute,” he wrote.