Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe Gets Go-Ahead for Casino

by Kyle Miller

Aquinnah Wampanoag TribeFederal appeals court gives Aquinnah Wampanoag the approval needed to open a venue with casino style gaming in Martha’s Vineyard.

When it comes to tribal gaming, Native American tribes often end up in court for a number of reasons, including proving their heritage in order to construct a casino gaming facility. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head has been fighting a legal battle for some time in an effort to offer casino style gaming in Martha’s Vineyard. A recently ruling this week now gives the group the power to go ahead with their gaming venue plans.

New Ruling

In 2015, a lower court decided that the tribe could not move forward with their casino plans, however, this past Monday, a federal appeals court ruled otherwise. The court ruling this week will allow construction to begin, with Massachusetts set to offer another gaming facility.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe is federally recognized and is one of only two with the recognition in the state of Massachusetts. It was many years ago that the tribe announced they had plans to build the casino-like facility and offer 300 gaming machines similar to slots. The tribe has an unfinished community center located in Martha’s Vineyard that would be the perfect location for the gaming hall. The tribe had estimated that with the venue in operation, they could create around $5 million in revenues during the first year of operation.

However, in 2015, a district court judge ruled that the tribe had not exercised significant government authority manifestations and were unable to claim their right to be able to operate a gaming space. This decision was overturned this week in a Boston appeals court. The First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge ruled that the tribe had been able to reach the agreements needed with the government and were able to pass the required ordinances to open their facility.

2011 Law

The tribe initially was disqualified from applying for licensing due to a compact between the tribe and officials of the state created back in the 1980s. At the time, the tribe had received 485 acres of land they said was ancestral. The tribe agreed to the law of the state that includes a provision of games of chance. The 2011 law caused the disqualification of the tribe but was later done away with by the court as separate regulations were created to allow tribe to operate gaming venues on tribal lands without having to be approved to do so by authorities of the state.

Additional Tribal Issues

The second federally recognized tribe in the state is the Mashpee Wampanoag. This tribe is also having legal troubles as they are trying to open a gaming venue on their tribal lands and have been in the process for several years now. The tribe proposed a $1 billion casino resort for the Taunton area but legal issues have prevented them from moving forward.

The state is currently working to evolve their gaming industry and build a commercial casino sector. Casino gaming in the commercial realm was only just legalized in 2013 and as many as four gaming licenses were up for grabs. Three could be full casinos while one would have to be a slots parlor.

The slots parlor license went to Plainridge Park Casino which opened in 2015. Wynn Resorts was given a casino gaming license and has been creating a venue in Everett to the tune of more than $2 billion. MGM resorts is also working on a venue in Springfield which should open late last year and cost $950 million to construct.