Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court to prevent the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head from converting an unfinished community building on Martha’s Vineyard into a small Class II casino.
The state contends that a federal settlement of 400 acres that the tribe accepted in 1983 included language subjecting all developments of the tribal land to state and local law, including forbidding gambling there. That agreement was ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987 (The Massachusetts Indian Land Claim Settlement Act). The tribe contends that when Congress adopted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, that trumped such a consideration.
The tribe has requested that Patrick negotiate a gaming compact, but Patrick insists the Aquinnah may not build a casino.
The governor commented last month, “It’s not about a negotiation; it’s about whether they do or they do not have a legal right to gambling, and the courts have to sort that out. And you know, we’re going to do that respectfully, but there’s a process for it, and that’s the process we’re pursuing.”
The governor’s position is similar to that espoused by the Aquinnah Board of Selectmen and Town Counsel, which has also threatened legal action.
Chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais made the announcement that the tribe planned to install a casino shortly before she was defeated for re-election by Tobias Vanderhoop. She cited an opinion by Acting General Counsel Eric Shepard of the National Indian Gaming Commission that supported the tribe’s contention that it could locate a casino on the island.
Vanderhoop, who will take office in January, did not comment on whether he intended to pursue the casino, but did indicate last month that he would defend the tribe’s interests from the lawsuit and keep its options open.