The town of Aquinnah, the commonwealth and a community group hurled what amounts to a legal Hail Mary pass this week, in a last-ditch effort to nullify the Wampanoag tribe’s asserted right to build a gambling hall on the Island.

Two petitions for certiorari, filed Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court, are an appeal of an April ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The appeals court panel unanimously concluded that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has the right to build a Class II (electronic bingo) operation on tribal land.

This week a petition went to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the case. — Nicholas Russell

According to that decision, the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), adopted by Congress in 1988, trumps a Massachusetts land claims settlement passed in 1987 that provided land to the Aquinnah tribe. In the settlement agreement, the tribe agreed to comply with state and local laws, including gambling prohibitions.

In their joint petition — essentially a request that the Supreme Court accept a case for full argument — the town and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association argue that the circuit court’s decision was wrongly decided and has significance around the country, not just in the state.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office also filed a petition asking the nation’s highest court to step in.

“The First Circuit’s upending of a thirty-year-old settlement codified in federal law was wholly unnecessary, and the decision is simply wrong, for reasons that go beyond the court’s mangling of the presumption against implied repeal,” the attorney general’s petition said.

“Implied repeal” is a key issue in the case, the gaming opponents argue, and the Supreme Court needs to step in to resolve how and when it is applied. Two federal appellate courts now are in conflict about how they have answered some variation of the following question:

Should IGRA, which established a national regulatory framework for Indian gaming but does not mention the Aquinnah tribe, “impliedly repeal” the more specific Massachusetts Act that expressly deals with the Island tribe and was passed a year earlier by the same Congress?

“And we think the answer is no,’’ said Aquinnah town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport in an phone interview Tuesday. “If Congress wanted to repeal our act, they should have said so. They know how to say so and they did not do that.”

Ground zero for the legal fight is the tribe's community center. — Mark Lovewell

In a text message late Thursday, tribal chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said the petitions “to stifle the Tribe’s sovereignty and rights are not unexpected – albeit disappointing.”

“Our tribe has lived on Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard) for over thirteen thousand years and we will continue to defend our homelands, our people and our rights from the overreach by those who have come to our homelands with the intent to control our community and disregard our rights,” she said.

In their petition, the town and community group said the legal issue extends beyond Massachusetts. If the First Circuit’s decision is left to stand “other agreements the tribes regularly make with state and local governments will likewise be in jeopardy,” the petition said.

It also stated: “After reaping the benefits of its bargain for decades, the tribe now seeks to renege on a cornerstone of the agreement by opening a gaming facility on the land it obtained in the settlement without complying with state and town laws.”

The odds are long that the Supreme Court will accept the case — by the court’s own accounting, only about 80 cases of the 7,000 to 8,000 petitions filed each year are granted review. It requires at least four of the court’s nine justices to agree that a case merits full consideration.

Since late 2013, the tribe and its three primary legal adversaries have been battling in court over the issue. The stakes for both sides are substantial. The town, state and community group got a favorable decision in 2015 from U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor 4th, who ruled that IGRA does not trump the Massachusetts Settlement Act.

But in a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel, the First Circuit ruled that the Aquinnah tribe qualifies for gaming under IGRA, and pointed to its own past rulings on tribal gaming, especially one involving the Passamaquoddy tribe in Maine.

In particular, it noted that the Maine tribe’s gambling prohibitions survived because its act had specific language warning Congress that laws like IGRA would not apply unless they included language “specifically applicable within the state of Maine.” IGRA contained no such language.

In contrast, the settlement acts of the Aquinnah and the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island said “nothing about the effect of future federal laws,” conflicted with IGRA and thus the more recent federal legislation must prevail, the appeals court said.

In their petitions, the gaming opponents said the appeals court ignored Supreme Court rulings that express caution about implied repeal, especially when a general law is repealing a more specific one. The First Circuit also failed to consider substantial evidence that Congress did not intend IGRA to repeal the Massachusetts settlement law, according to the petitions.

The petitions point to the 5th Circuit appellate court, which has jurisdiction over Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. It ruled in 1994 that IGRA does not repeal the Ysleta tribe’s restoration act, which has similar gambling restrictions. As it turns out, the Ysleta statute was endorsed by Congress on the very same August 1987 day the Aquinnah act was adopted.

The court could decide whether to accept the case in six to eight weeks, a court official said.

Asked whether the tribe will file a response with the Supreme Court, Ms. Andrews-Maltais would only say, “At this point, we’re keeping all our options open.”

In a response forwarded to the Gazette from Ms. Andrew-Maltais by text message, the tribe’s attorneys Scott Crowell and Lael EchoHawk said the petitions “disingenuously attempt to manufacture a split in the Circuits regarding the well-settled principles of implied repeals as the reason why the Supreme Court should hear the case. There is no disagreement as to the law regarding implied repeals and there is no split in the Circuits.”

Ground zero for the legal fight is a 6,500-square-foot community center on the tribe’s protected land in Aquinnah. Tribal leaders have pointed to a gambling hall’s potential for economic development and a much-needed revenue source for a range of tribal services and programs.

After Judge Saylor ruled against the tribe in late 2015, tribal leaders voted to finish the building and use it for its original purpose, as a community center. The tribe also faced the prospect of refunding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which had provided grant money for construction of a community center.

Since the favorable decision from the federal appeals court in April, tribal leaders have not commented on plans for the community center building, should the tribe ultimately prevail in court.

But for the first time, the tribe will hold one of its regular general membership meetings in the building later this month, on August 20. And the building has been in use has for a summer cultural enrichment camp for children.

In a recent issue of the tribal newsletter, Toad Rock Times, Ms. Andrews-Maltais referred to the building as “newly completed . . . We still have more things to do to bring it to where we’d eventually like it to be,” she wrote. “However, it’s ready to have our meetings there. We’ve actually had the Summer Turtle Program enjoying the building since the program began this summer.”

One item on the agenda for the August 20 membership meeting: “Community Center Use.”