The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has designated three areas in southeastern Massachusetts for potential casino sites and scheduled referendum votes in two of those locations, inching closer to being eligible for a state gaming license.
Chairman of the tribe, Cheryl Maltais-Andrews, confirmed this week the tribe has entered into a purchase and sale agreement to buy land in Fall River and has land under option to buy in Freetown and Lakeville, the three towns and cities being considered by the tribe for a casino. The tribe also has sent a letter to Governor Deval Patrick requesting to begin compact negotiations under the state gaming law, she said.
On Wednesday, director of communications for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development Jason Lefferts said the state had received the tribe’s letter but would “consult with outside counsel before taking any further action.”
Referendum votes will test public support when voters consider 230 acres in Freetown and 285 acres in Lakeville; the two parcels abut each other. Freetown voters will vote on May 29 and Lakeville voters on June 2. The tribe has also entered into a purchase and sale agreement for 230 acres in Fall River, but no vote has been scheduled. That parcel abuts 900 acres of city property, Mrs. Maltais-Andrews said in an e-mail to the Gazette.
She said the tribe is looking for the best-fit location.
“If all communities vote yes, then that is a great problem to have,” she wrote. “We, with the guidance of our development partner, will take the necessary steps to analyze our options to determine which location will have the best potential for the most success.”
Proof of land agreements for tribal gaming development and a referendum vote in the host communities for the casino are required under the new state gaming law passed last November, which created three licenses for casinos in different areas of the state. One is reserved for a federally recognized American Indian tribe and two will go through a public bidding process. Tribes have until July 31 to enter into a compact agreement with Gov. Patrick for a casino. The Aquinnah Wampanoags are competing for the right to a casino license with the Mashpee Wampanoags, who are in negotiations to buy 77 acres in Taunton.
The tribe has been vague on details of the project, including design, cost estimates and financial backers. Mrs. Andrews-Maltais said in her e-mail the tribe is not ready to commit to any dollar amount “because the scale and scope will depend on many factors including, but not limited to, location, what the market will bear and what we as a tribe can invest without overbuilding the site and overburdening our people,” she wrote.
The chairman said the tribe would look into how they could assist the towns in the cost of calling the special votes. She said the Freetown vote is expected to cost around $5,000, Lake-ville about $6,000, and Fall River is estimated to cost $60,000.
The tribe announced their plan to enter the casino game again last month. Plans for a casino date to 1994, when the tribe partnered with a subsidiary of Carnival Hotels and Casinos. The plan faltered after the state legislature failed to pass a law to allow gambling. Since then the tribe made several other attempts to partner with other tribes across the country, including tribes in New York and Louisiana, but those too failed.
In a recent interview with the Gazette, Mrs. Andrews-Maltais said wherever the casino may be built, the development would be mixed use and include housing, commercial outlets, health care, day care and other public services for tribal members.
There are 1,150 tribal members across the country, around 300 of whom live on the Vineyard.
by Remy Thumin