Earlier this week, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) sent shockwaves throughout the state and region, announcing that it had received federal approval to conduct gaming on its property in the outermost town on Martha’s Vineyard.
A letter from the Acting General Counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission to Tribal Chairman Cheryl Andrew-Maltais said that the tribe’s land on the island was eligible for gaming, and that its decision, in effect, trumps a land settlement act the tribe signed with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1987. Ms. Andrew-Maltais, in turn, held a telephone press conference on Tuesday, saying that the tribe would begin offering Class II gaming—bingo, poker, and electronic games—within months at its community center on State Road.
Challenges from the state, local authorities, and island residents have already begun.
So, could the same thing happen in Mashpee, where the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is in the final stages of construction of a government and community center nearly 10 times larger than that of the Aquinnah tribe? If the tribe’s land-into-trust application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs results in approval of 170 acres in Mashpee being placed into trust, but denies the request for 151 acres in Taunton, where the tribe hopes to build a $500 million resort casino, is gaming in Mashpee a possibility?
Not likely, say town leaders and at least one Indian gaming expert.
Clyde W. Barrow, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an expert on gaming issues in New England, said he thinks gaming in Mashpee is out of the question.
In an intergovernmental agreement signed between the tribe and the town on April 22, 2008, the tribe agreed to a section which states:
“The tribe agrees not to construct or operate a casino conducting either Class II or Class III gaming as authorized by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2701, et seq., within the geographical boundaries of the Town of Mashpee; provided that the tribe may conduct bingo and other games as permitted by state law within the geographical boundaries of the Town of Mashpee with awards or prizes not greater than those allowed by state law, including under Mass. Gen. Law, c. 10, sec. 38, as that statute may be amended in the future, upon 30 days prior notice to and consultation with the town.”
The bingo and games mentioned in the IGA would be similar to those conducted by churches and nonprofit organizations at events such as Las Vegas Nights.
Current Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell, and his wife, Cheryl Frye-Cromwell, who now serves as government health liaison for the tribe, were both members of the tribal council during the 2008 IGA negotiation process. Both abstained from voting on the IGA with the Town of Mashpee.
“I don’t see any reason for concern. We have an ironclad agreement,” Mashpee town manager Joyce M. Mason said.
Clyde W. Barrow, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an expert on gaming issues in New England, said he thinks gaming in Mashpee is out of the question. “The tribe prohibited it by their own consent in their agreement with the town. That’s why they’re looking off-Cape,” he said, adding that the Aquinnah are using the Indian Gaming Commission as “extortion” to get the governor to negotiate a compact with them.
“When the Aquinnah tribe signed that land settlement agreement, they waived their sovereignty over those lands for gaming,” he added.
Leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the plans of the Aquinnah.