If gambling is about winning, it’s hard to see victory for anyone in the lawsuit brought last month by Gov. Deval Patrick against the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
The governor is asking the state’s highest court to prevent any attempt by the tribe to open a high stakes bingo parlor in Aquinnah by declaring that the tribe forfeited its rights to do so in a 1983 land settlement agreement that led to its federal recognition.
Ironically, the governor doesn’t have an issue with gaming per se, which is why most people dislike the idea of a casino on Martha’s Vineyard. After all, he is the one who reignited the whole casino frenzy in Massachusetts with passage of the Gaming Act of 2011. Until then, the Vineyard tribe’s expensive and ill-fated efforts to catch the resort casino wave of the 1990s was fading quietly into the past.
For their part, tribal officials — at least since the defeat of tribal chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais — now seem more interested in asserting their right to make their own decisions about economic development than they do about actually opening a casino on the Island. Risking an unfavorable court judgment that could affect other initiatives on an idea that has no real support seems particularly unfortunate.
One never knows what a court might do, but the state Supreme Judicial Court has already ruled once against the tribe in a sovereignty case more than a decade ago when it found the Aquinnah tribe was subject to state and town land use and zoning laws. And should the case be removed to federal court, as seems likely, the trend in federal Indian litigation has not been particularly favorable to tribal rights.
What’s left is a costly lawsuit to test a question that nobody really needs to ask right now.