With the federal appeals court decision last week requiring the Wampanoag tribe to obtain local permits before starting construction of a bingo hall in Aquinnah, tribal leaders have two choices: play ball with the town or drop the plan altogether.

They can certainly seek to get the two-judge decision reviewed by the entire appeals court or try to take it up to the U.S. Supreme Court, but both avenues are long shots at best.

If there was any good news for the tribe, it was that the ruling did not set a legal precedent regarding their sovereign rights. The tribe was simply out-lawyered. Writing for the court, the Hon. O. Rogeriee Thompson found that tribe had failed to raise the issue of permits when it appealed a lower court decision on different grounds, a procedural omission that prevented it from bringing the issue up later.

The vigorous pursuit of what seems on its face like a bad business idea – a modest gaming facility at the furthest reaches of the Island – has always been more about principle than practice. The sad irony is that while many Islanders, including tribal members, are sympathetic to the notion of tribal sovereignty, most dislike the idea of a casino in Aquinnah.

It is noteworthy that the tribe is represented by Arizona attorney Scott Crowell, whose clients include indigenous tribes nationwide and whose entire practice is “committed to tribal advocacy and to the preservation and furtherance of tribal sovereignty,” according to his website. If more evidence were needed that this was not just an Island dispute, consider that both the National Congress of Indians and the Native American Rights Fund supported the tribe’s position in this case with a friend of the court brief.

The appeals court decision cautioned the town not to try to use its permitting authority to harass the tribe or thwart the casino. Now the Aquinnah selectmen have reached out, inviting tribal leaders to begin a discussion of how construction of a gaming facility might proceed. If there was ever a time to talk, it would be before the announced retirement of selectman Jim Newman, a thoughtful leader and a good friend to the tribe.

Until now, tribal leaders have rebuffed efforts by the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to engage on the topic. In a statement last week, tribal chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais correctly stated that the court had already acknowledged the tribe’s right to conduct gaming on tribal lands, even if it still must comply with town and Islandwide building regulations. She pledged to continue to assert the tribe’s rights to gaming on tribal lands, though it was unclear what that might mean in practical terms.

Best case for the Island? The tribe abandons the ill-conceived bingo hall. As the pundits say, it’s time to declare victory and move on.