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Judge Rules in Favor of Martha’s Vineyard Casino

A federal appeals court overturned a ruling that denied the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head the right to build a casino gaming facility on Martha’s Vineyard on Monday. Now that the original 2015 ruling was changed, it appears another possible casino will be coming to the state of Massachusetts.

Establishing Governmental Authority

The original ruling in 2015 claimed that the tribe did not demonstrate “sufficient actual manifestations” of government authority over its tribal land. This ruling blocked any opening of a gaming facility from the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe without prior approval from the state. Two years later, the tribe has proven its governmental power by entering several intergovernmental agreements, passing ordinances, and employing a judge.

Judge Juan Torruella, who overturned the original 2015 ruling, went on to explain in a written statement that the tribe had established a housing program that receives HUD assistance. Under this program the tribe has built roughly 30 housing units and entered and agreement with the EPA. The tribe also operates a healthcare clinic while providing a number of other social services that have legitimized them as a tribe that can in fact have authority over its own lands.

Questions of Legality

In 2011, the state of Massachusetts legalized casinos and expanded gambling law to authorize up to three resort casinos. Two years later the Commonwealth sued the tribe in December of 2013, following the National Indian Gaming Commission’s approval of the Aquinnah’s gaming ordinance.

Lawyers in the 2015 district court trial debated over two conflicting laws related to the tribe’s case. In 1987 Congress gave 485 acres of tribal land into trust with and agreement that state and town laws would continue to apply. A year later Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which established guideline for tribal gaming. At the time the district courts argument that due to the lack of government, the IGRA did not apply.

What to Expect

The tribe had originally been hoping to convert an unfinished community center into an electronic bingo hall in Aquinnah. The tribe would then use the casino revenue to promote economic development and bolster tribal programs. The tribe estimated the proposed casino would generate $4.5 million in its first year of opening. The published overview of the proposed casino claimed the building would bring in 100 full-time jobs with about 300 gaming machines.

Martha’s Vineyard property owners have openly opposed the building of a casino on that land and as of now there is no concrete plans to begin construction.

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