A surprise voting issue was presented on May 6, 2012 at a Wampanoag Tribe general membership meeting: The question was whether to use an as-yet-unfinished community center for class II gaming. No announcement preceded the vote, which came down along geographic residential lines. Those tribal members living in Aquinnah generally voted against, while those living on the mainland voted for.
The Governor of Massachusetts and the town counsel have determined that per the 1983 Settlement Act, the tribe waived its rights to gaming. The government’s view is that the Settlement Act limits the Tribe to town zoning in effect at the time of the Act, and that the Aquinnah zoning laws at that time did not allow a casino, gaming facility or other gaming activities.
The Tribe’s attorneys in Spokane, Washington
Martha’s Vineyard is located on the other side of the world from Spokane, Washington. Nevertheless, the lawyers of the Massachusetts tribe are housed in the State of Washington. The Tribal Advocacy Group of the Crowell law office represents the Tribe.As in all matters legal, there is an opposing view concerning the controlling law. According to Mr. Crowell, the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA) pre-empts the Settlement Act in regard to all gaming issues.
High stakes Bingo, but where?
The Wampanoag Tribe has definitely decided that high stakes Bingo will happen in a Massachusetts town. They have also concluded that their tribe will be the one to open the Class II gaming casino. However, the tribal members do not appear to have determined exactly where the facility will be located. All members interviewed, agreed that a casino in the tiny town of Aquinnah would drastically change its character. They all seem to care. Yet the vote was taken. However, there remains a question as to whether the Tribe will bother to challenge the town’s counsel.
There is a three-member board of Selectmen. One of the members, Selectman Beverly Wright stated that the board would discuss the issue “if it comes to fruition. I think it is a matter of debate, whether it is going to come to fruition.” The focus of the Tribe seems to be on the mainland towns of Lakeville, Freetown and Fall River. There are three hoops to jump through, however, before anything becomes a reality: 1) Host community approval; 2) Mashpee Aquinnah must be outmaneuvered; and 3) The legal perspective of the governor, that the Settlement Act precludes the Tribe from all gaming activities in the entirety of Massachusetts, must be legally overturned.
Class II gaming and Class III gaming compared
High stakes Bingo, poker, pull-tab cards and electric games without coin slots comprise Class II gaming. If the tribe’s state allows the type of gaming intended, then the tribe has the authority to regulate Class II gaming on their own lands. The state’s authority is not required. Class III involves all types of gaming. It requires a tribe-state agreement. In many instances, tribes obtain a Class II license while their Class III permit is pending. The Seminole Tribe of Florida for example, utilized a Class II contract during the years that they battled the state. Finally, in 2010 they obtained their Class III permit.
Bingo is Big Business
There is a Boston public relations firm for the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah. Slowey/McManus Communications seriously represents the gaming intentions of the Tribe. There’s also a California casino development partner for the Tribe: KMD Consulting services. The Wampanoag Tribe had meet and greet programs in Lakeville and Freetown on the mainland. The plan is to develop a casino on land connecting the two towns. Another focus is Fall River, where the Tribe is considering a real estate purchase. There are only three casino licenses being given out in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag Tribe wants one. That’s the prize.