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Posted by Heather C. Rynd on Saturday, September 8, 2018
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Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe solidifying plans for long-awaited casino

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe is moving forward with plans for a long-awaited casino on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

With the Chickasaw Nation, a major player in the gaming industry, as a partner, the tribe is envisioning a 10,000-square-foot Class II facility that will put 100 people to work, The Vineyard Gazette. Plans call for an initial investment of $12 million in the project, the paper said.

The paper gleamed the information from tribal citizens who attended a membership meeting last month. The details are the first to emerge since the partnership with the Chickasaw-owned Global Gaming Solutions was announced late last month.

But officials in the town of Aquinnah, where the casino is to be located, say they have been kept in the dark. During a public meeting last week, the board of selectmen approved the issuance of a letter to the tribe in hopes of working together in some fashion.

“We don’t know anything,” selectman Jim Newman said at the September 5 meeting, The Gazette reported. “There’s been no communication. We’re hoping that we can sit down with them and find out what’s going on, so that we can find out what we can do to help, with the idea that we want to cooperate with them.”

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe was planning to turn an unfinished community center into a gaming facility but now it looks like a different site on the reservation in Massachusetts is under consideration. Photo courtesy Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah)

More than three years ago, tribe started building a casino at the site of a community center in Aquinnah. Litigation filed by the town, local property owners and the state of Massachusetts forced construction to stop.

But the tribe eventually prevailed. An April 2017 ruling from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that the tribe can follow the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The U.S. Supreme Court later declined to consider an appeal of the historic decision.

The community center, however, is no longer up for consideration as the casino, The Gazette reported. Instead, tribal citizens were told that a 17-acre property elsewhere in Aquinnah will be used.

According to the paper, the site was placed in trust after the tribe purchased it in 2014. Normally, that might be an issue because Section 20 of IGRA, generally, bars gaming on land acquired after 1988.

But so long as the property falls within reservation boundaries, the general prohibition will not matter. Under IGRA, any land within a reservation -- whether it's held in trust, fee or in another legal status -- can be used for a casino.

Still, the tribe is limited with what it will be able to offer patrons since the state refuses to negotiate a Class III gaming compact. That means slot machines, card games and related offerings are off the table.

Instead, the casino is expected to feature Class II games like bingo and electronic versions of bingo. The Chickasaw Nation, incidentally, was a pioneer in this area before voters in Oklahoma authorized Class III gaming more than a decade ago.

The state of Massachusetts has long relied on a faulty and overly restrictive interpretation of the Massachusetts Indian Land Claims Settlement Act in order to avoid acknowledging the sovereign rights of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe. The 1st Circuit ruling struck down the state's reasoning.

Read More on the Story
Selectmen Seek Meeting With Tribe on Bingo Hall (The Vineyard Gazette September 6, 2018)
Selectmen want to reach out to tribe regarding casino (The Martha's Vineyard Times September 6, 2018)

1st Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
Massachusetts v. Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) (April 11, 2017)

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