In Massachusetts and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has reportedly lost its appeal against an earlier ruling that is preventing it from unilaterally bringing a Class II electronic bingo hall to land it owns on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
According to a Thursday report from The Martha’s Vineyard Times newspaper, the federally-recognized tribe has long been hoping to open its envisioned Aquinnah Cliffs gaming venue on a 17-acre parcel of land situated near the tiny town of Aquinnah. However, this plan has purportedly attracted a number of legal actions from opponents who contend that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) does not have the right to debut such a facility without first gaining local approvals.
At issue is reportedly a settlement the tribe inked with area officials in 1983 that gave it an around 400-acre plot in exchange for an assurance that it would submit to local and state zoning laws and agree to forfeit any other land or water claims. This was followed some four years later by the federal government’s endorsement of the Massachusetts Settlement Act, which made the newly-established reservation of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) subject to state rules including those pertaining to the operation of gambling and bingo venues.
Nevertheless, a spanner was reportedly thrown into the works in 1988 when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to give the federal government the right to independently sanction Class I and Class II tribal gaming facilities without state approvals. This move purportedly prompted the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to successfully apply for such an authorization and begin construction on the 6,500 sq ft community center that was to host its Aquinnah Cliffs enterprise.
Multiple legal actions soon followed with the state of Massachusetts and the local community reportedly eventually joining forces in court from 2013 to contend that the 1983 agreement had countered the newer federal legislation to mean that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) remains subject to local planning rules.
Following many years of back-and-forth legal struggles, Judge Frank Dennis Saylor IV from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled in June of 2019 that the tribe could only build its gambling-friendly establishment if it first agreed to abide by zoning bylaws set by local planners and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Unhappy that this decision seemed to undermine some of its hard-won sovereignty and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) purportedly appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in hopes of being given permission to unilaterally construct and premiere the first gambling-friendly facility on Martha’s Vineyard.
But the newspaper reported that the tribe’s hopes have now been shattered after the Boston-headquartered federal court upheld the earlier ruling from Judge Saylor to leave its plan to build the electronic bingo hall at the mercy of area officials.
Cheryl Andrews-Maltais (pictured) from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) reportedly told The Martha’s Vineyard Times that she is ‘obviously disappointed’ in the new ruling as it aids the ‘continued persecution of the tribe’s rights.’ Nevertheless, she purportedly furthermore asserted that her group intends to continue fighting for the right to open a Class II electronic bingo hall on Martha’s Vineyard as the decision ‘makes clear that neither the town nor the Martha’s Vineyard Commission can use the permitting process to stop the tribe’s gaming facility from opening.’