Click here for the complaint (posted by AGHCA staff)

Gov. Deval Patrick filed a lawsuit against the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Monday seeking to block the tribe’s plans to build a casino in Aquinnah.

The 16-page complaint filed in the state Supreme Judicial Court claims the tribe breached a 1983 land claims settlement agreement by taking steps to allow gaming in Aquinnah. Those steps include forming a gaming commission and passing a gaming ordinance, the state said.

The complaint, signed by Attorney General Martha Coakley, asks the state’s highest court to declare any attempt by the tribe to open a casino invalid.

“The Aquinnah tribe has taken actions to license, open, and operate gaming establishments on settlement lands in violation of Massachusetts and local law and in breach of the settlement agreement’s provisions,” the complaint says in part.

Tribal officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The filing comes three weeks after the chairman of the tribe claimed it had federal approval to move forward with plans to build a casino on the Island. Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said the tribe was “totally cleared” to convert the tribe’s unfinished community center into a high-stakes bingo hall and would do so quickly.

The state and town counsel argue the tribe waived its sovereignty rights in the 1983 land settlement agreement, which later led to the tribe’s federal recognition. Among other things the settlement allowed 400 acres of public and private land in Aquinnah to be transferred to the Vineyard tribe. The tribe agreed that those lands would be subject to state and local laws.

The agreement was tested in court for the first time in 1999, after the tribe built a shed on land fronting Menemsha Pond without a permit from the town. The state Supreme Judicial Court upheld the settlement agreement in 2004 and found that the tribe was subject to state and local zoning laws. The court also found that the tribe had partly waived its sovereign immunity rights.

The tribe has taken the position that the Indian Gaming Rights Act enacted in 1988 supersedes the settlement agreement.

In the complaint filed Monday, the state said the tribe has made it clear they intend to allow gaming in Aquinnah “as soon as possible,” making it imperative that the court declare in advance that this action is illegal.

“The Aquinnah tribe’s actions, as alleged in this complaint, are so considerable that they go to the very essence of the parties’ contractual bargain in the settlement agreement,” the state said.

The state approved a commercial gaming law in 2011 which created three commercial casino licenses. One license was reserved for an American Indian tribe. Governor Patrick awarded that license to the Mashpee Wampanoags, and refused to negotiate with the Vineyard tribe, citing the sovereignty issue. While saying she wanted to revisit the state’s rejection of the Aquinnah tribe’s bid for a commercial license, Ms. Andrews-Maltais said the tribe was moving forward under a different section of the IGRA to build a high stakes poker facility in Aquinnah.

Mrs. Andrews-Maltais was unseated by Tobias Vanderhoop in a closely-watched election two weeks ago. He does not take office until January. He has said he supports gaming as an option for the tribe, but has not taken a position on the Aquinnah casino.

by Remy Tumin