Martha’s Vineyard Decision Reversed

Earlier in July of 2015, Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head tribal officials announced that they planned to convert an unfinished community center on the island into a gambling venue. Let’s be real, this is not a world-class casino proposal. The building, which spreads over 6,500 square feet, is located on Aquinnah Wampanoag reservation land, was intended to be a Class II Bingo hall.  People will not be flocking from across the country to visit this casino, instead of visiting Twin River, Newport, Wynn Boston Harbor or the CT casinos.

Wampanoag Community Center and Future Bingo Hall gets new life.

But the tribe was ordered by a federal judge to stop the construction of a building located on Martha’s Vineyard.  Why?

1) the tribe started construction work without acquiring the necessary building permit, and 2)  under certain zoning restrictions, a casino venue is prohibited from being opened there.

Martha's Vineyard MapAlso, according to local officials, the tribe forfeited its right to offer gaming on their land when they signed a land settlement agreement in 1983, an act that subjects them to state and local laws.

In order to prevent the tribe from proceeding with its plan, Aquinnah officials had filed an injunction to the U.S. District Court. Scott D. Crowell, lawyer for the Aquinnah Wampanoag, argued that authorities’ jurisdiction over the tribe is limited. In addition, under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, (five years after the initial land settlement agreement) the tribe has the right to run a gambling property on reservation land and it cannot be denied that right or at least not by the town. In other words, they cannot ban the project.

When Native Tribes across the country are being allowed to thrive and raise the quality of life for their communities, why is New England seemingly so anti-Native American?

Well, that could be changing.

According to NECN, that gambling hall on Martha’s Vineyard gained a second life Tuesday after a federal appeals court reversed a lower court decision blocking the long-sought project.

“The decision made public Tuesday ruled the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe exercises sufficient government powers on its lands to be considered a sovereign tribal nation that can conduct limited gambling under federal law without seeking local approvals. ……Supporters within the tribe have countered that casino revenues, which tribal leaders have suggested could be as much as $4.5 million a year, would allow their government to offer more critical services where the majority of its citizens live off island, in parts of southeastern Massachusetts near the Rhode Island state line.”

Tribal nation sovereignty has been given a boost, as it should.

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Maine Opposition To Tribal Gaming is Prejudicial

While Connecticut waits for a legislative decision to possibly allow a commercial casino to accompany the tribal casino monopoly, Maine has just been dealt with the opposite proposal – a tribal casino to be allowed in a state of commercial gaming casinos.

According to Focusgn.com, Maine’s state legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee discussed the possibility of legalizing a bill that would allow tribes to offer casino gaming in the state. Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland, said that the tribes should be able to create an economic system that would bring benefits to the tribes.

300px-Wohngebiet_MaliseetSeveral other casinos proposals have been made over the years by multiple Indian tribes, but with little success.  The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians tried to bring a casino into Aroostook County four years ago. In 2003, efforts by the Passamaquoddy tribe and Penobscot Nation to build a casino in Sanford were rejected in a statewide vote while the Hollywood Casino was approved on the same ballot. A Passamaquoddy owned and operated casino and race track facility in Washington County was also voted down in 2007. Similar efforts for another tribal racino in Washington County were also thrown out when the Maine Racino Initiative was rejected in 2011.

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Passamaquaddy Crest

In 2013, the Penobscot Indian Nation has tried to pass a bill to enhance its existing gaming operation—a 30-year-old traditional bingo enterprise that uses a bingo caller and bingo cards. And it’s the fifth year in a row its efforts have been thwarted by the state.  But Maine officials claimed that the Nation’s proposed Class II bingo machines are really Class III slot machines—a claim that’s refuted by two of the most reputable companies in the country that manufacture, test and certify gaming machines.  Class III is a designation applied only to “tribal” casinos and are Vegas-style Slot Machines used on tribal casinos such as Mohegan Sun, & Foxwoods.  They are exactly the same, Class II are tribal casino machines that work as a bingo machine and may look like a slot machine, but doesn’t act like one in paying off the player.  Check out the following links for more info on Class II & Class III.

Legal Distinction Between Class II and III Gaming Causes Innovation, Anguish

Slot Machines, VLT’s What’s the Difference? – John Grochowski Explains

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Chief Kirk Francis talks about why Penobscot Nation officials are upset by the state’s delay of license request that would allow the tribe to use Bingo machines. The state says they’re slot machines, the tribe says it’s part of Bingo operations.

So why is 2017 so different? Maine has, in the past been accused of pursuing policies that force the state’s recognized tribes into a cycle of dependence rather than fostering economic self-sufficiency. Maine currently has two commercial casinos, Oxford Casino and the Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway Bangor, while the Passamaquoddy tribe operates a high-stakes bingo parlor in Indian Township.

This bill would authorize the Department of Public Safety, Gambling Control Board to accept applications for casino licenses from the states four recognized tribes,which comprise five tribal communities: the Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot.

These licenses would permit the operation of table games and up to 1,500 slot machines at multiple facilities. It would also exempt the tribes from the state regulation that no casino may be built within 100 miles of an existing casino or slot machine facility. Twenty-five percent of net slot machine revenue and 16 percent of net table game revenue go the state general fund.

York County, Maine om the Mass & NH borders where the third Casino in Maine is proposed

York County, Maine, on the Mass & NH borders where the third Casino in Maine is proposed.

As one can imagine, Hollywood Bangor & Oxford Casino officials are not too happy.  It has another fight to the southwest of Maine – a proposed York County casino.  The Legislature is expected to put the casino question to voters in November because backers collected enough signatures to place it on the ballot. Lawmakers criticized an effort to bring a casino to York County saying the company behind the proposal has a questionable history and would be handed exclusive and lucrative rights to build the casino if voters approve.

Could Maine support all these possibilities?  Probably Not.  While it is the 39th largest state in the Union – larger than South Carolina  & W. Virginia,  and slightly smaller than Indiana – only 10 states have less residents, three of which are also in New England!  Tribals nations in the north do have the distance away from New England casinos and a close proximity to Canada.  But York County?  That’s another question that won’t be answered for a while – if it ever gets approved.

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Taunton Vs. Mashpee Wampanoag Casino – More “Pride or Prejudice?”

330px-PrideAndPrejudiceTitlePagePride and Prejudice is a novel of manners by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, & education among others.

Is there a parallel between Indian affairs in New England? Maybe only in the title.

This past week, property owners in Taunton who are attempting to block the Mashpee Wampanoag from building a $1 billion casino are pushing their legal challenge. The group asked a court to halt construction on the project, “First Light,” temporarily. If granted by a judge, an injunction would force the tribe to halt construction until the lawsuit is resolved, which could take years.

First Light

First Light Resort Casino

Why? When Native Tribes across the country are being allowed to thrive and raise the quality of life for their communities, why is New England seemingly so anti-Native American? Continue reading