Aquinnah Cliff Tribe Casino Case Back in Court

A six-year long legal battle between a tribe’s ambition to build a casino facility in their reservation and the town authorities is far from complete, as The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head in Aquinnah, Massachusetts is filing for the First Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor IV, where he stated that the tribe must seek town permits for their project.

Who is right and who is wrong?

Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act /IGRA/ of 1988, the tribe has the right to build a casino, and the tribe has moved forward with their idea for an electronic bingo facility with slot-like machines and acquired the necessary license from the National Indian Gaming Commission, but the town of Aquinnah has argued that the tribe gave up their gambling rights in a land agreement reached with the state in 1987, thus questioning which act of legislation supersedes which.

It all started back in 2014, when the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head bought 17 acres of land for $1.1 million, and 7 of the 8 parcels bought were included into the tribe federal trust land to bring it to 160 acres total, adjacent to the tribe’s community center, the latter being strongly considered to house a gambling facility.

Hurdles All the Way

The tribe claimed there was never an intention to build the casino on Martha’s Vineyard, but Gov. Patrick’s refusal to consider a compact for an off-Island casino effectively negated the tribe’s intention to locate the casino  on land it had under agreement on the Freetown/Lakeville town line, and left them with no other choice but to pursue a location for their project elsewhere.

And it seems that the lawsuit saga that started in 2015 that at one stage looked like was over for the tribe tribulation is anything but complete, as Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV in 2019 ruled that the tribe must adhere to local permits for the construction of its Aquinnah Cliffs casino.

There is no question about the IGRA superseding the tribe state agreement, but as the tribe failed to address specifically the issue with regulations for the construction and operation of their facility, but just contended that under IGRA there was no need to get local permits for their project as it was going to be built on reservation land, it left the door open for the ruling.

 “…“If the tribe seeks to construct and operate a gaming facility, it need not comply with state and local gaming laws, but it must comply with all state and local laws and regulations of general applicability to the construction and operation of a commercial building.””, Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV

And now the tribe is appealing against that ruling before the First Circuit Court of Appeals, with the whole fiasco costing a fortune on legal fees for Martha’s Vineyard Commission and tribal casino far from completion.

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