Add the town of Aquinnah to the growing list of stakeholders looking to intervene in a federal lawsuit against the state’s casino legislation.
On Monday, selectmen voted unanimously behind closed doors to file a motion in U.S. District Court. The move comes just before a hearing Monday on the case, when a judge will hear the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head’s (Aquinnah) motion to be included in the process.
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Both the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes have filed separate motions seeking to intervene in the suit that pits KG Urban Enterprises, a developer interested in building a casino in New Bedford, against the state.
KG Urban alleges that language in the 2011 state law giving federally recognized tribes the first chance at a casino license in Southeastern Massachusetts amounts to a “race-based, set-aside” that violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The tribes are not seeking to side with KG Urban or the commonwealth. Rather, each tribe maintains in their motions that they have a material stake in the outcome of the federal case.
The Aquinnah tribe wants the court to establish that it has rights to an Indian casino in the commonwealth, a position that’s received a cold response from Gov. Deval Patrick. Meanwhile, the Mashpee tribe, whose intervention in the case is also yet to be granted, wants the case thrown out entirely as it struggles to build an Indian casino in the city of Taunton.
The three Aquinnah selectmen — two of whom belong to the Aquinnah tribe — filed the motion to protect the tiny Martha’s Vineyard town’s interests in the ongoing lawsuit, according to court documents.
The Vineyard-based tribe has also struggled to win approval in Lakeville and Freetown, where it has land under agreement as a possible casino site.
The tribe has threatened to build a smaller casino in its community building on the island.
According to the filing, the town’s position is that the tribe entered into a land-use agreement in 2007 to abide by Aquinnah’s zoning bylaws, which prohibit a casino in the town of about 311 residents.
“The town did not move to intervene earlier because, as a small municipality with a limited legal budget, it did not wish to expend its scarce financial resources in the event this court denied the Aquinnah tribe’s motion to intervene,” the town’s motion, written by town attorney Ronald H. Rappaport, states.
Town Administrator Adam Wilson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Aquinnah tribe has been on the outside looking in for months because the governor’s office has taken the stand that the tribe waived its federal rights to an Indian casino when it made a land settlement in the mid-1980s.
The tribe contends that it could not waive a right it did not have at the time and that federal law supersedes state law.
A spokesman for KG Urban said the company would have no comment on the latest motion.
All of this comes as the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is poised to vote Tuesday to open up the Southeastern Massachusetts region to commercial applications while the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe continues to weave its way through a tangle of complicated federal approvals.