Federal judge hears arguments in Vineyard tribal gaming case
By State House News Service | August 13, 2015, 7:55 EST
Written by Andy Metzger
BOSTON — A federal judge on Wednesday declined to immediately rule on arguments presented by the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head and the groups seeking to block it from building an electronic bingo hall on Martha’s Vineyard.
Lawyers argued about overlapping federal statutes passed within a year of each other. In 1987, Congress placed 485 acres of tribal land into trust with agreement that the state and town laws would continue to apply. In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which sets up a framework for tribal gaming.
Two years after Massachusetts approved an expanded gambling law authorizing up to three resort casinos, the Commonwealth sued the tribe in December 2013 after the National Indian Gaming Commission approved the Aquinnah’s gaming ordinance.
Judge Dennis Saylor complimented all parties on their arguments and said he would come to a decision “as quickly as I can.”
Appearing before Saylor at the Moakley Courthouse, attorneys for the state, the tribe, the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association and the town argued for more than an hour about the extent of the tribe’s governance on its land, the intentions of federal lawmakers nearly three decades ago and whether case law applies to the Aquinnah case.
Saylor said for opponents of tribal gaming to prevail, they would need to distinguish the situation on Martha’s Vineyard from a 20-year-old case where a federal appeals court required that the state of Rhode Island enter into “good faith negotiations” on a gaming compact with the Narragansett Indian Tribe.
The esoteric legal jousting in a hearing on summary judgment motions occurred while President Barack Obama summered on the same island that could be directly affected by the court’s ruling.
Scott Crowell, an attorney for the tribe, said Congress’s passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act “implied repeal” of any special restrictions on gaming in the special act, while Aquinnah town counsel Ronald Rappaport argued it would be nonsensical for Congress to supersede a law it passed only a year earlier. Rappaport also said the town prohibits gaming on the land in question.
Assistant Attorney General Juliana Rice noted the tribe’s agreement with the town stems from a 1974 lawsuit the tribe brought against the town. Rice said the omnibus Indian gaming law “did nothing to disturb” the agreement that gives the state jurisdiction over the land that was granted to the tribe in the settlement.
Massachusetts legalized casinos and a single slot parlor in 2011, reserving up to three casino licenses in the west, the southeast and the Metro Boston area, and establishing a special licensure process for tribal gaming.
Former Gov. Deval Patrick negotiated a gaming compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to build a casino in Taunton, but state gambling regulators have since moved on to the potential of a commercial casino in the area as the tribe has so far been unable to establish the requisite federal land in trust.
Crowell said the state “refuses” to negotiate a gaming compact in good faith with the Aquinnah and said Massachusetts has “turned its back on the very opportunity to have a voice” in its gaming plans.
On July 28, Saylor enjoined the tribe from any further construction on the facility.
Tobias Vanderhoop, the chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, told the News Service the tribe could seek to expand beyond an electronic bingo hall depending how the current project proceeds.
“This is a temporary project,” Vanderhoop told the News Service.
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