The new tribal community center in Aquinnah could become a gaming hall with slot machines, table games and bingo under a proposal endorsed Sunday by members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
Openly defying the Aquinnah town counsel, who says the tribe lacks legal authority to build a casino here, tribal members acting on an unexpected motion at a general membership meeting voted to set up a temporary Class II gaming facility on the Vineyard as early as this summer. The vote was 21-10, with seven abstaining from the vote, according to two tribal members who attended the meeting but asked not to be identified.
With Sunday’s vote, the tribe, led by its chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, effectively doubled down on its efforts to bring gaming to Southeastern Massachusetts. The tribe is separately pursuing a plan to build a casino on a parcel of land bridging Lakeville and Freetown. Tribal leaders scheduled meet-and-greet sessions in those towns for this week ahead of referendum votes scheduled in three weeks to gauge community support.
Both efforts by the Vineyard tribe appear likely to end up in court.
The tribe also announced Monday that it had selected KMD Consulting of California as a partner to develop a resort casino in Southeastern Massachusetts. KMD, run by principal Kevin M. Dwyer, is currently working with the Menominee Tribe to develop a casino in Wisconsin.
Gov. Deval Patrick has declined to negotiate with the Vineyard tribe on the mainland casino plan, contending that the tribe partly waived its rights to sovereignty in a 1983 land claims settlement agreement. Last week, Aquinnah town counsel Ronald Rappaport issued an opinion that concluded the tribe had no authority to build any kind of gaming facility in Aquinnah. “The simple answer to the question is no,” the longtime town attorney said in a seven-page opinion requested by the Aquinnah selectmen.
The tribe disputes those interpretations, contending that it retains rights under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to put a casino anywhere it likes. The tribe is relying on a 1997 opinion from a lawyer for the U.S. Interior Department that said the tribe had the right to a conduct gaming on tribal lands.
Sunday’s vote called for a Class II gaming facility, a federal classification which is not a full casino but includes various games of chance, including bingo, slot machines and various table games.
The special general membership meeting was billed as an informational session to introduce tribal members to the team of lawyers, publicists and gaming advocates behind the move to bring a casino to southeastern Massachusetts. Tribal members were unaware of the vote, selectman and tribal member Spencer Booker said Monday, adding most who attended the meeting believed it to be a meet and greet. Mr. Booker attended the meeting but did not stay for the vote, he said.
Mr. Booker said it was clear that the meeting and Mr. Rappaport came down on opposite sides.
“I know the town’s attorney came back with this opinion and I think based on the vote we had yesterday the tribe doesn’t necessarily agree with the lawyer’s opinion,” Mr. Booker said.
After three hours of discussion a motion was put on the floor by an off-Island tribal member to bring a class two hall to Aquinnah, the two tribal members told the Gazette.
Attending the meeting were the chairman Mrs. Andrews-Maltais, members of the Aquinnah Gaming Corporation, publicists from the Boston consulting firm Slowey McManus as well as Florida-based Red Line Media Group, attorneys from Boston and Washington, D.C., and Scott Crowell of the Crowell Advocacy Group, who joined the meeting via conference call. Also present were spokesmen from KMB Development.
It was reportedly said at the meeting that the high stakes bingo hall would bring in an estimated revenue of $300 million annually.
by Remy Tumin