BOSTON — A Martha’s Vineyard-based Indian tribe said yesterday it had gained federal approval to build a gambling facility on the island, though the state of Massachusetts has long contended that the tribe gave up its gaming rights in a land settlement.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, a federally recognized tribe, issued a statement saying it planned to move ahead with converting an unfinished community center on tribal lands into a temporary Class II gambling facility. Such a facility could offer high-stakes electronic bingo or poker games and some types of slot machines, but not casino-style table games.
The tribe cited a legal opinion, dated Oct. 25, from Eric Shepard, the acting general counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission. In the letter, Shepard said the tribe’s lands on Martha’s Vineyard qualify for limited gambling under the federal law that governs tribal gaming and that the Aquinnah have sufficient legal jurisdiction over the lands.
“The Tribe has consistently asserted that we have the right to game on our lands in Aquinnah,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, tribal chairwoman, in a written statement. “These approvals affirm our position. We are thrilled!”
Shepard did not return a message seeking comment.
Martha’s Vineyard, an island just south of Cape Cod that is accessible by ferry, is a popular summer tourist destination. President Barack Obama and his family have vacationed several times on the island, as did President Bill Clinton when he was in office.
The tribe also said it would ask Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration to begin negotiations on a state compact that would allow the tribe to someday open a much larger Class III resort casino, either on the island or on lands taken into trust on the mainland. The state has refused to enter into such talks in the past, contending that the Aquinnah ceded gaming rights in a 1983 settlement that secured tribal lands.