Massachusetts’ Aquinnah Tribe Makes Play for Class III Gaming

Posted on: November 23, 2021, 06:56h. 

Last updated on: November 23, 2021, 02:49h.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) wants to negotiate a Class III gaming compact with the State of Massachusetts. This would bring Las Vegas-style slots and table games to a future gaming establishment, possibly in New Bedford.

New Bedford casino
Aquinnah chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, above, could be eyeing a Class III casino in New Bedford. (Image: Vineyard Gazette)

Aquinnah chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker in September asking to begin revenue-share discussions, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Times.

The document became public on Monday at a meeting of the Aquinnah Town Council. The council opposes the tribe’s gaming ambitions on Martha’s Vineyard and had requested a copy of the letter from the governor’s office.

“We would like to set up a meeting in the immediate future to discuss and establish a protocol to move forward. The tribe looks forward to frank and successful negotiations to establish a regulatory framework for Class III gaming,” reads the letter.

New Bedford Casino in the Cards

The tribe has been trying for years to build a Class II gaming facility — the Aquinnah Cliffs Casino — featuring electronic bingo and poker. The proposed casino would be based on Martha’s Vineyard. However, the plan faced protracted legal challenges from local officials and resident groups and because of that, has stalled.

In the meantime, the tribe is unlikely to pursue a Class III casino on the island, which lacks the infrastructure and appetite for such a project.

The tribe’s right to build a Class II facility on Martha’s Vineyard under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) has been affirmed by the courts. But they have rejected the tribe’s position that it does not need to seek local building permits.

The Aquinnah lost its appeal against this decision, and it’s unclear how it plans to proceed with the Aquinnah Cliffs project. It has said the ruling is a “roadmap to impede” its plans on the island.  

In October, Andrews-Maltais said the tribe had set its sites on a property in New Bedford to house its satellite office.

The city council has expressed interest in hosting an Aquinnah casino and wrote to the tribe to that effect in 2018, according to the MV Times.

Frozen Out

Massachusetts legalized casino gaming a decade ago, creating three Class III licenses, two for commercial casinos and one for a Native American facility.

The state refused to negotiate with the Aquinnah because it believed that a clause in the 1987 federal law that recognized the tribe and restored its land precluded it from IGRA. A subsequent court ruling determined this position was incorrect.

Instead, the state-backed the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which planned to build a $1 billion casino in Taunton, the First Light, with financial support from Malaysian casino giant Genting.

That plan was torpedoed by a 2016 federal court ruling that determined the US government erred when it agreed to take land into trust for the project.