A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the town of Aquinnah and a group of town residents have a stake in a lawsuit over whether the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has the right to open a casino on the Vineyard.
Following arguments in Boston from attorneys for the town, the tribe and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association, U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor 4th agreed over the tribe’s objections to let both the town and the homeowners’ group intervene in a dispute between the state and the tribe. The tribe had originally opposed both parties’ motions to intervene, but dropped its opposition to the town at this week’s hearing.
Last fall, the tribe announced it had federal approval and would move forward with plans to convert an unfinished community center in Aquinnah into a bingo hall. The tribe contends that as a sovereign entity, it has the right to pursue gaming on its own lands and is not subject to state or local jurisdiction, including town zoning bylaws. But Gov. Deval Patrick, who filed a state court lawsuit last December against the tribe, claims that the tribe agreed to abide by state and local laws when it entered into a land claims settlement in 1983.
Shortly after the governor’s lawsuit was filed, the tribe moved the case to federal court, an action that was later upheld.
Ruling from the bench on Wednesday, Judge Saylor also agreed to a schedule for further actions in the case. Under the schedule, resolution is not expected before early next year at the earliest.
The tribe elected a new chairman in November. In February, the tribe reaffirmed plans to build a casino after a referendum to end the plan failed by two votes.