Aquinnah election adds new dynamic to Vineyard Casino

Tobias Vanderhoop calls for “a different approach to doing business.”

After announcing plans last week to forge ahead with a casino on Martha’s Vineyard, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah over the weekend voted out its chairwoman, electing a candidate who in a campaign video called for inclusivity and “a different approach to doing business.”

Challenger Tobias Vanderhoop earned 165 votes to 91 for Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, according to Tribal Chief Ryan Malonson, who told the News Service Monday that there was “a pretty good showing of the membership” during the voting on Sunday.

Andrews-Maltais surprised Gov. Deval Patrick and others last week when she announced she had federal approval and planned to develop a casino on the Vineyard.

“It’s too early to tell,” Roger Donoghue, a lobbyist who represents the Aquinnah, when asked if the election results would affect the tribe’s casino plans. He said in order to go ahead with a casino, the tribe would have to vote on the proposal and he does not know when that might happen.

New Chairman has not given his position on island an casino

According to the Vineyard Gazette, Vanderhoop supports gaming but has not declared a stance on building a casino on the island.

“Our community is yearning for a different approach to doing business,” Vanderhoop said in a campaign video. He said, “If you’ve ever felt less than welcome here, maybe even alienated, please know that I want to get to know you.”

Vanderhoop could take the reins as the tribe enters litigation with the state. Gov. Deval Patrick has disputed Andrews-Maltais’s assertion that it has the right to build a casino even without a license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Gov. Patrick speaks with new Aquinnah leader

“I expressed to her, as I did publicly: We have a difference of opinion and a pretty sharp one, but a respectful one on the legal question,” Patrick told reporters Monday. “The question I believe is whether their rights to gaming are governed by the Indian Gaming Law at the federal level or whether they have to get a license like anybody else who has those ambitions, and we’re going to have to sort that out soon, and we will probably have to end up sorting that out in court.”

Patrick, who chose to negotiate with the Mashpee Wampanoag, a tribe seeking to build a casino in Taunton, said the state would prevail in a legal dispute with the Aquinnah.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen on Martha’s Vineyard, because I don’t think the law is in favor of that,” said Patrick, who said he had spoken with Vanderhoop who “reminded” him he doesn’t take office until mid-January, meaning for the next couple months, the state would continue dealing with Andrews-Maltais.

Tribe Chief Ryan Malonson said unlike past elections where there were clear divisions between each candidate’s supporters, the breakdown of support between Andrews-Maltais and Vanderhoop appeared to be more “mixed,” and he said there are about 1,300 tribal members and about 85 percent are of age to vote.

Malonson, who holds the mainly ceremonial position of chief, which was previously held by his father, oversaw the election for the chairperson, who is the head of government for the tribe.

The tribe also elected Shelley Carter and Clarence Al Clark to the tribal council.

Chief Ryan Malonson opposes a casino on the island

Malonson said he is personally opposed to building a casino on the island.

“Personally I think it’s possibly a good idea, but don’t put everything there. Trying to have it here on the island, I think that’s just a little bit too maddening,” Malonson said. He said, “We’re a tourist type island as it is…I don’t think it would be a good fit here.”

Malonson said he is familiar with gaming culture, having visited other casinos on tribal business.

“Personally, I am not a gaming person,” Malonson said. He said, “When they first were talking about it, first thing that popped into my head: ‘Oh wow. Where you going to put it?’ And that’s always an issue with us. Where you going to put something?”

by Andy Metzger,State House News Service