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Massachusetts Tribe Goes Forward With Casino Plans

The Massachusetts tribe on the outside looking in has reaffirmed its desire to build a small casino on its reservation in swanky Martha’s Vineyard. Even with new chairman, Tobias Vanderhoop (l.), the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) narrowly voted to continue the process to turn a community center into a Class II casino.

A tribe based on Massachusetts’ Martha’s Vineyard, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), has voted to defy the state government and go forward with plans for a high stakes bingo hall on the island.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) narrowly voted last week to press forward with plans to build a Class II casino on land it owns on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, despite a lawsuit filed by Governor Deval Patrick to stop that from happening.

The tribal vote February 16 confirmed an earlier vote to convert a 6000-square foot community center that has lain unfinished for several years into a small casino. There was an attempt to overturn the previous vote, but it failed by three votes. It would have a required a two-thirds vote to overturn the previously voted on plans. The tribe’s constitution prevents another such vote for a year.

According to Tribal Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop, quoted by the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette, “The outcome of the referendum did not change the previous two actions that had endorsed the proposal of a casino project here. At this point, the previous actions remain enforced and the project will move forward.”

The governor filed suit in December in state court to prevent the tribe from going forward with the high stakes bingo project. He claims that the land settlement of 1983 that the tribe signed with the state prevents it from building a casino on the land it acquired at that time. The tribe has filed in federal court to get the suit moved there.

Vanderhoop has promised to reach out to the town of Aquinnah, which opposes the project. He told the Gazette, “We want to try to make sure that we have discussion where appropriate and provide support where appropriate to the town of Aquinnah and other towns as well. It is our intention to reach out and have those conversations with our sister governments on the Island to make sure that questions and concerns are heard and discussions about any mitigation that may be necessary are had so that we continue to be that good neighbors. That’s the right thing to do.”

Beverly Wright, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, and also a tribal member, commented that while she supports the tribe’s right to build a casino, that she opposes building it in the town of Aquinnah. 

“It’s our traditional homelands and our ancestors fought tooth and nail to keep our lands. To desecrate our lands is not something I’m in favor of. We’re a small town, a two-lane road. What about traffic? What about septic? What about water? What about parking?” she said. She told Cape Cod Online, “I don’t know of anyone in the town who is in favor of the facility being built in Aquinnah.”