The question of whether a proposed Indian bingo parlor on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts comes under state or federal jurisdiction is at the heart of a lawsuit filed by the state to prevent the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) from building a small casino on the island.
The tribe argues that its federal rights to build a casino trumps an agreement it made with the state in the 1980s agreeing to abide by local land use rules in return for a land settlement.
The judge in the casino Dennis Saylor in U.S. District Court, described the case as having “complexities,” and took under advisement the motion of the state Attorney General, Martha Coakley, to send the case back to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
Governor Deval Patrick, who decided in December to sue the tribe after it announced that it intended to build a casino on the island, claims that the Aquinnah tribe has violated its agreement with the state. Normally a federally recognized tribe would have the legal right to build a Class II casino without a compact.
When the state legislature approved of gaming expansion in 2011, and set aside a license in the southeastern part of the state for a federally recognized tribe that Aquinnahs repeatedly asked the governor to negotiate with them. He refused.
The tribe’s attorney told the court, “When it became a federally recognized tribe … everything changed. This is a federal question. … It belongs in federal court.”
Outside of the courtroom Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairman of the tribe’s gaming corporation, said that the casino will open in about 12 months.
Tribal Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop, told reporters, “I’m extremely confident in the questions we raised before the court today. Not only do we have federal rights, but federal court is the right venue.”