MV Gazette, on November 25th, 2011

Wampanoags here press for seat at table

The passage of a bill that legalizes gambling casinos in Massachusetts has renewed hopes among the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) for a casino of their own.

The bill signed on Tuesday by Gov. Deval Patrick legalizes three full-scale resort casinos and one slot machine parlor. Two of the casinos will go to commercial bidders, while one is reserved for a federally-recognized Indian tribe. The Mashpee Wampanoags are seen as the favorite pick to run that casino, but in an e-mail to the Gazette on Tuesday Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairman of the Vineyard tribe, said she was “very encouraged by the passage of the bill.”

“Since the mid-1990s our tribe has been, and remains interested in pursuing gaming,” Ms. Andrews-Maltais wrote in the e-mail. “We are hopeful that since the bill has become a reality, that we’ll have the opportunity to sit down with the governor to see exactly what provisions the commonwealth is suggesting, for the federally recognized tribes to obtain a license.”

Last June Ms. Andrews-Maltais and Naomi Carney, head of the Wampanoag Gaming Corporation, unveiled plans for a gambling resort on 240 acres off Interstate 195 in Fall River. Last year the Mashpee Wampanoags also unveiled plans for a resort casino on 300 acres of city property in Fall River and won the support of Fall River mayor William Flanagan. Those plans have since fallen through, derailed by a deed restriction on the property and a lawsuit brought by a group of concerned citizens.

The Vineyard tribe’s pursuit of casino plans date back to 1993 when it began luring investors and hiring lobbyists to convince the state house to pass gambling legislation. In 1994 the tribe teamed up with Carnival Hotels and Casinos and won the support of Gov. William Weld to build a $175 million casino in New Bedford, but the plans languished on Beacon Hill.

This time around it is unclear whether the issue of sovereignty will play a role in any casino gambling plans for the Vineyard tribe. The tribe waived at least part of its sovereignty following a 2004 state Supreme Court decision ruled that it must abide by local and state zoning laws on land use projects according to the terms of a 1986 settlement agreement.

by Peter Brannen

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