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NEWS 13 April 2017

Federal appeals court overturns ruling blocking gambling facility in Massachusetts

By Nicole Abbott
A native American tribe’s plans for a gambling hall on Martha’s Vineyard has been given a second chance following the federal appeals court’s decision to reverse a block on the long awaited project made previously instated by a lower court in 2015.

The federal appeals court’s decision ruled that the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe exercises sufficient government powers on its lands to be considered a sovereign tribal nation that has the right to conduct limited gambling under federal law without seeking local approvals.

The panel of three judges that made up the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal noted that the federally recognised tribe operates a housing program (responsible for building approximately 30 residential units), runs a health clinic, administers various education schemes and provides social service programs for tribe members. The tribe also employs rangers, who enforce tribal laws as well as a judge and a range of ordinances and inter-government agreements.

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, Chairwoman of the tribe, states: “As we have always asserted, the Aquinnah Wampanoag has every right to conduct gaming on our tribal lands just as any other tribe in the country. This decision affirms our sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the land that has always been ours and solidifies our place in the gaming market.”

State Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has stated that it is currently reviewing the decision.

The state and town had argued that a 1983 agreement granting the tribe nearly 500 acres on the famous resort island had specifically prohibited gambling; however, the tribe maintains it’s within its rights to conduct limited gambling, and has proposes to renovate an uncompleted community centre to create a facility that will house up to 300 electronic betting machines.

Non-tribal residents have voiced their concerns of potential problems relating to traffic, crime and other social problems that the gambling facility could bring.

Supporters of the tribe have argued that casino revenues, estimated at around $4.5 million a year, would allow the tribal government to offer more important services on mainland Massachusetts, where the majority of its citizens live.

Another native American tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod, are also seeking federal approval to build a resort in Taunton, to join the Plainridge Park slots parlour in Plainville and two other major resort casinos currently under construction by MGM and Wynn.
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