Resumed Courtroom Battle Over Stalled Martha’s Vineyard Casino Focuses on Legal Technicality

Posted on: June 2, 2019, 06:29h. 

Last updated on: June 2, 2019, 06:46h.

A proposed gambling hall on Martha’s Vineyard has once again wound up in Boston federal court with the town of Aquinnah demanding the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head gets a local building permit before construction takes place.

Scenic Martha’s Vineyard is the subject of a resumed courtroom battle over a stalled tribal casino. (Image: Seastreak Ferries)

Lawyers representing the Massachusetts island town told U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV Friday the tribe needs to apply for the permit from the town. Issuance would be contingent upon the plans complying with local zoning and building regulations.

Attorneys representing the tribe countered that federal courts already ruled the Wampanoag can open and operate the casino on their own land. Also, the tribe has argued it is compliant with relevant rules set out by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Saylor heard arguments from both sides on Friday. No word when he will issue a ruling.

Let me start by saying that I view this as an entirely technical question of law,” Saylor told the courtroom, according to the Vineyard Gazette.

The hearing was attended by many members of the Aquinnah homeowners’ association. They apparently want the tribe to apply for the permit before construction can commence.

Also attending were members of the Wampanoag tribal council and representatives from Global Gaming Solutions. It is a Chickasaw Nation company which has partnered with the tribe.

One pressing legal issue is that there was no final judgement made on the case in 2015 when the judge first ruled. Because of that, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 overturned Saylor’s ruling.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not hear the case. That let the appeal’s court decision remain in place.

Judge Admits Error

“I did not enter final judgment … which was a mistake,” Saylor acknowledged on Friday, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Times.

“I view this as an entirely technical question,” Saylor added. “The question here is what should the judgment look like as a technical matter, not whether the tribe has a good building inspector or not.”

It appears Saylor believes the town cannot employ the lack of building permits to block the building of the venue, the Gazette reported. But the town can regulate relevant characteristics of the gaming venue, the judge said.

Earlier this year, the tribe cleared some of its four acres so construction can commence on the gaming venue. Electricity to the site was cut in March because the tribe had not gotten an inspection from the town, with the tribe saying it wants to use its own inspector.

The tribe plans to open the bingo venue possibly later this year. The 10,000-square foot casino would have 250 electronic games, with projected annual revenue of $4.5 million.

Martha’s Vineyard Commission Asked to Review Plans

Aquinnah and Chilmark town officials already requested the plans be considered by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. It is a regional planning agency.

After the court hearing, tribal Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais told the Times, “They’re asking us to get permission, which we don’t need…. It’s simply disrespectful.”

They just want to keep their foot on our necks,” she additionally was quoted by the local newspaper.

The venue is tentatively being called the Aquinnah Cliffs Casino. Traditional slot machines and table games will not be permitted.

The bingo hall is to be built on the island’s remote western end. Residents have worried about its impact on the bucolic location, especially on traffic flow.