Martha’s Vineyard Casino Appeals Filed in Court, Litigation Costs Escalate

Posted on: January 29, 2020, 08:23h. 

Last updated on: January 29, 2020, 10:13h.

Legal appeals were filed this week over a disputed tribal casino on Martha’s Vineyard. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) wants a Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge to overturn a ruling last June by Boston federal Judge Dennis Saylor IV ordering the tribe to get local permits before building the bingo hall.

Jeffrey Madison, administrator for the Town of Aquinnah, Massachusetts, says the town wants to see public safety and environmental protections put in place for a planned tribal casino on Martha’s Vineyard. (Image: The Vineyard Gazette)

The tribe maintains it does not need to go through the local and state permitting process. Approvals for the project fall under rules spelled out in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the tribe argues.

In his recent brief, Scott Crowell, an attorney for the tribe, said Saylor’s ruling was “repugnant to IGRA’s comprehensive and sophisticated regulatory scheme,” the Martha’s Vineyard Times reported.

Saylor’s ruling, “if allowed to stand, will deprive the tribe of those rights and privileges which IGRA affords other Indian tribes, and will destabilize the jurisdictional structure of Indian gaming throughout the United States,” the brief adds. “Moreover, allowing the decision to stand will violate the United States’ jurisdiction over the land it holds in trust for the Tribe, by requiring the United States to be subordinate to state and local laws.”

Over $89,000 Spent by Regional Planning Commission on Lawsuit

While it’s not clear how much both sides have spent on the legal action so far, it was revealed recently that Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) — a regional planning board – on its own has spent at least $89,012 in legal fees on the case, the Times reported. The town has been represented by attorneys regarding the case, too.

“As for the appeal, I can only say that the Town of Aquinnah recognizes, and respects, the Tribe’s rights to operate a bingo hall on their property,” Aquinnah Town Administration Jeffrey Madison told in a statement released Tuesday.

Our only concern is that appropriate measures are taken to assure public safety, as well as environmental protection. The Town’s only avenue to gain those assurances is through the Courts, as all efforts at learning of the Tribe’s intentions regarding building and environment have gone unanswered,” Madison added.

The MVC voted to deny the project last July. The denial was largely because of inadequate information.

The tribe did not take part in the commission hearing, citing its continued argument that it was not subject to local permitting because the venue falls under the jurisdiction of the IGRA, not local or state laws.

The commission could consider a future application by the tribe. It is likely the commission will again review the project for possible traffic or environmental impact.

The tribe wants to build an electronic bingo gambling hall on its tribal property. The building site is on a remote section of the island, so many residents are concerned about its impact.

Martha’s Vineyard Site Appears Secure

Last summer, safety and security improvements for the construction site were approved in a joint agreement between the town and the tribe.

The agreement allowed the tribe to place coverings on exposed rebars, place barriers or coverings over trenches, and reinforce or build new fences to prevent anyone from entering the property, the Times said.