Possible big twist in Mass. casino race

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November 12, 2013, 12:31 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Woods Hole, Mass.) Say "Martha’s Vineyard" and you think of presidential getaways with the Obama and Clinton families, beautiful people on vacation with Carly Simon and James Taylor – and someday, soon, casino gambling, too?

That was the stunning announcement from the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe Tuesday that they've won the federal OK to build a so-called Class II casino – a gambling hall offering high-stakes bingo and electronic games and player-versus-player poker and card gambling, but no blackjack and only limited slot machines. The location would be a still-unfinished tribal community center now under construction within the 481 acres of tribally owned land on the southwest end of Martha's Vineyard. In a public statement, Aquinnah chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said, "We are thrilled" by a letter from the National Indian Gaming Commission’s acting general counsel stating, according to her, that the Aquinnah have the federal legal right to offer gambling.

Vineyarders interviewed at the Woods Hole ferry terminal in Falmouth, though, were anything but thrilled.

"On the Vineyard, I think it would be really inappropriate," said Susie Herr of West Tisbury. "We have enough traffic without a casino." Bob Pieringer of Oak Bluffs agreed: "Living on the vineyard, I just don't think it would be appropriate."

Mark Makuch, who splits his time between Oak Bluffs and Willington, Conn., was more vehement: "This is one change that it's easy to know everybody knows would be terrible -- a terrible idea. I live in Connecticut, where we have two casinos. A lot of people's lives have been ruined. Nobody's happier. A lot of kids abandoned in cars. Nothing good has come of it."

The Aquinnah tribe's announcement stunned state officials, who had no idea it was coming and have argued the Aquinnah forfeited their right to a casino in 1983 as part of a land settlement, and aides to U.S. Rep. William R. Keating had no information, either.

Media spokesmen for the U.S. Interior Department and National Indian Gaming Commission did not respond to repeated requests for comment Tuesday on what they told the Aquinnah and what if anything the commission has formally ruled on. The Aquinnah announcement, first reported by Mark Arsenault in The Boston Globe and Boston.com, referred to an opinion letter from the commission’s acting general counsel, but it was not immediately clear if the tribe would also need a formal vote from the commission and if that has occurred.

One point of leverage for Governor Deval L. Patrick and legislators: The Aquinnah would have to negotiate a "compact" with the state specifying what taxes they would pay on gambling profits and other terms. The state has come to terms on a compact with a different tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag, over a casino that tribe is trying to build in a Taunton industrial park it is seeking to have the Interior Department declare to be tribal land. Patrick’s administration – which has argued it thinks the Aquinnah forfeited their right to seek a casino in 1983 – had no comment Tuesday on whether the governor would pursue a compact with the Aquinnah.

Locals are vowing to do whatever they can to fight it. Loretta Wolozin, one of the just 90 registered voters in Aquinnah, formerly known as Gay Head, said, "It can’t happen. It would be an intrusion on the nature of the Vineyard. They’re going to have to get through the local [approval], and there will be some very strong local associations that will be anti that move in Aquinnah and on the island."

With videographer John E. Stuart

Tags: massachusetts, Peter Howe, Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard, massachusetts casinos, Aquinnah Wampanoag, Martha's Vineyard casino, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, National Indian Gaming Commission, US Interior Department
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