The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head moved a step closer to building their first tribal casino development this week after the US Department of the Interior announced plans to place 15 acres of land into trust on its behalf.
Located on the border of current tribal land, it was initially purchased by the tribe at the end of 2014 and will now be joined to its 480 acres already under trust with the Federal government.
The decision comes amidst a long standing legal battle over its intention to operate a gambling development, which is currently being considered by the US Supreme Court for review.
Its dispute centres on whether the legal authority of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988) should supersede the authority of the Massachusetts Settlement Act (1987), allowing the tribe to operate Class II gaming under exemptions to local and state regulations.
In 2015 the tribe expressed its intention to operate a gaming centre in an unfinished community centre building near the town of Aquinnah, a move which was challenged by the state and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association in court.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head eventually lost this case when US District Judge F Dennis Saylor effectively found that the tribe does not exert “sufficient governmental power” over its own land to qualify for such an operation under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Judge Saylor stated that as the tribe does not provide its own independent police, fire and emergency services, and did not show evidence of enough responsibility for other services it could not operate gaming under the act.
He also asserted the authority of the Massachusetts Settlement Act over the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, saying in effect, that the tribe “cannot build a gaming facility on the settlement lands without complying with the laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the town.”
Tribal leaders stated that lodged an appeal against the decision, an appeal which they eventually won earlier this year in the U.S Court of Appeals.
Following this decision the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association have lobbied for Supreme Court intervention to settle the debate, a move which the tribe have opposed.