In a stunning reversal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit has overturned a decision by a federal judge in the casino case involving the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) — solidly backing the tribe’s right to operate a gambling facility on protected tribal lands.

The 23-page ruling issued Monday roundly rejected arguments by the town of Aquinnah and the commonwealth on appeal, siding with the tribe on critical points. The decision by the three-judge panel was unanimous.

The pivotal issues were whether the tribe qualified for gaming under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and, if so, whether IGRA trumped an earlier Settlement Act for the Aquinnah tribe and endorsed by Congress.

U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor 4th had ruled for the town and the state in late 2015, finding that the tribe does not have the right to conduct Class II gambling (electronic bingo). The appeals court panel reversed Judge Saylor’s findings and remanded the case back to the district court for entry of judgment in favor of the tribe.

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