Land on the Vineyard owned by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is eligible for a casino, according to an opinion from the National Indian Gaming Commission that was made public Tuesday by the chairman of the tribe.
Chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais issued a press release announcing that the tribe had been cleared by the federal government to build a casino on tribal lands here.
“The tribe has consistently asserted that we have the right to game on our lands in Aquinnah,’” the chairman said in the release. “These approvals confirm our position. We are thrilled!”
The release was based on an Oct. 25 letter from Indian Gaming Commission acting general counsel Eric Shepard.
“It is my opinion that the specified lands are Indian lands as defined by IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] and are eligible for gaming,” Mr. Shepard wrote. The letter was a response to an August 29 letter from Mrs. Andrews-Maltais requesting an opinion as to whether “certain land held in trust” by the tribe was eligible for gaming.
Mrs. Andrews-Maltais could not immediately be reached for comment. The announcement comes five days before a heated tribal election where she is being challenged for her seat by former tribal administrator Tobias Vanderhoop.
The opinion from the Indian Gaming Commission is contradictory to the position taken by the Aquinnah town attorney and Gov. Deval Patrick, who both say the tribe is barred from building a casino under the terms of a 1983 land claims settlement agreement with the town. As a result, Governor Patrick has refused to negotiate with the tribe for the one casino license in Massachusetts reserved for an Indian tribe. In another development on Tuesday, the state legislature ratified a compact between the state and the Mashpee Wampanoags for that license.
Aquinnah town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport reacted to the latest news from the Vineyard tribe. “I’ve read the letter from the National Indian Gaming Commission of Oct. 25; I have not read the other letters referred to in that letter,” Mr. Rappaport said. “But based on my preliminary review, nothing in that letter would change my opinion. Which is that gaming is not allowed on tribal lands under the terms of the 1983 settlement agreement, state enabling act and act of Congress ratifying the agreement.
“I would also note that the Massachusetts governor’s office and state gaming commission have taken the same position.”