A decision by the state gaming commission late last week to open up Southeastern Massachusetts to commercial bidding for casinos will not disrupt casino plans by the Vineyard Wampanoags, the head of the Vineyard tribe said.
“We have been following these events as well . . . . It doesn’t impact us at all,” Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said in an email to the Gazette. Mrs. Andrews Maltais is chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously at a public hearing April 18 to open Southeastern Massachusetts to commercial bidding for casinos.
The decision adds another twist to a complicated picture unfolding in the commonwealth around casinos. Several commercial developers and two Wampanoag tribes, including the Vineyard tribe, are now vying for the right to build a casino under a new state gaming law. None have won approval yet.
The state has held off on opening what is known as Region C to commercial developers in order to give an American Indian tribe the first chance at a casino license in the region. The Mashpee Wampanoags are proposing a $500 million casino in Taunton and working on a compact with Gov. Deval Patrick for the sole gaming license reserved for an Indian tribe. The tribe still needs approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the government take land into trust on their behalf. It also needs approval from the state legislature.
Governor Patrick has refused to negotiate with the Vineyard tribe, claiming the tribe waived its sovereignty in a land settlement agreement it signed in 1983. In January, Mrs. Andrews-Maltais told the Gazette the tribe would not pursue a commercial class three license under the state law but would continue to press for a high-stakes bingo hall on the Vineyard.
The issue of American Indian gaming rights is also before a U.S. District Court in Boston. A private developer, KG Urban, has sued the governor over a section of the state gaming law that gives first rights for a casino license in Southeastern Massachusetts to a tribe. The Vineyard and Mashpee tribes, the town of Aquinnah and Gay Head taxpayers have all made motions to intervene in the case.
A status conference in the case was held on April 11, and the impact of the gaming commission’s decision on the case was discussed, Aquinnah town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport said, but no decisions were made. Additional briefings in the case were due April 23.
In her email Mrs. Andrews-Maltais said: “As we have always maintained, we support Mashpee’s and our right to game under the IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulation Act]. We are confident that despite this minor change in the Massachusetts licensing process . . . Mashpee will continue their pursuit and succeed with their plans for their destination resort casino. We wish them the best.”