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U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up Massachusetts’ Legal Battle over Proposed Tribal Casino on Martha’s Vineyard Island

The legal saga of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, one of Massachusetts’ two federally recognized tribes, has soared on the news once again. This Monday, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) filed its closing arguments with the U.S. Supreme Court in response to a petition opposing the tribe’s legal right to open a bingo hall on the Martha’s Vineyard island.

In August, the state of Massachusetts, Aquinnah town officials, and representatives for the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association each filed a petition for certiorari, seeking to resolve the long-standing dispute between the state of Massachusetts and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. The U.S. Supreme Court is asked to review the conflicting decisions previously made by several lower ranking courts and to issue a decision, which is to be stamped as “final”.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe is one of Massachusetts’ two federally recognized tribes. Under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the tribe has the right to operate a gambling facility as long as it is established on tribal land. The act allows tribal nations to conduct Class 2 gaming in a property that is located within their reservation. Some time ago, the tribe announced its interest in establishing a gaming venue, which would offer only slot-like electronic bingo machines, but not table games. The tribe planned to establish the gambling venue at an unfinished community center site on Martha’s Vineyard.

The Clash Between the State of Massachusetts and the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe

The state and the town of Aquinnah have argued that the tribe is not allowed to apply for a license to operate gambling facilities on the Island. The opposition claimed that in 1983, the state penned an agreement with the tribe that this particular plot of land on Martha’s Vineyard (owned by the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe) cannot be used for a gambling facility. This means that the tribe’s right to establish a gambling venue on the Island has been forfeited.

The tribe, on the other hand, explained that IGRA was introduced 5 years after the land deal was sealed and thus, IGRA replaced the aforementioned settlement act. Tribal members believe that they have the right to operate a bingo hall located on tribal land and they would not given up on this battle.

The intricate situation seems to confuse also the U.S. judges, who have previously issued contradictory rulings on the matter. Some courts have thrown their support behind the tribe, while others have reiterated the state of Massachusetts’ stance that the local Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head should not be allowed to open a casino-like venue on Martha’s Vineyard Island. After years of fighting, it seems that the unstoppable bickering between the state of Massachusetts and the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe may soon be resolved.