Updated May 29 at 5:29pm

Aquinnah, Mashpee tribes make headway on casino aspirations

The Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah has won federal approval for its plans to build a casino on its tribal land on Martha’s Vineyard, Boston.com reported Tuesday. More

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Aquinnah, Mashpee tribes make headway on casino aspirations

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AQUINNAH, Mass. – The Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah has won federal approval for its plans to build a casino on its tribal land on Martha’s Vineyard, Boston.com reported Tuesday.

Eric Shepard, acting general counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission, issued legal analysis on Oct. 25 stating that the Aquinnah lands on Martha’s Vineyard are eligible for gaming under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Shepard’s letter settled a long-standing disagreement between the Aquinnah and Massachusetts officials, who had insisted the tribe surrendered its IGRA rights under the terms of a land settlement in the 1980s when the tribe agreed to abide by state law on its territory.

The tribe plans to convert an unfinished tribal community center on the island into a temporary casino until a permanent facility can be built. The completed casino would be legally categorized as a Class 2 facility, which permits high-stakes bingo, poker and some varieties of slot machines, according to the Boston.com report.

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the tribe’s chairwoman, said the casino will “blend in with the rest of the island” and that the tribe plans to work closely with local businesses.

The tribe also said it has requested renewed negotiations with Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick on a compact that would allow for a wider variety of Las Vegas-style games at the Aquinnah casino, but the Cape Cod Times reported that a Patrick administration official said the office had not received a copy of the ruling by the National Indian Gaming Commission and was unaware of the request.

The Aquinnah are a separate tribal government from the Mashpee Wampanoag, whose proposal for a casino in Taunton has been challenged on the grounds of a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

On Tuesday, as the Aquinnah tribe announced the approval of its casino by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Cape Cod Times reported that the Massachusetts House and Senate gave final approval votes to a compact negotiated between Patrick and the Mashpee in March.

The approval of the compact follows federal approval by the U.S. Department of Interior on Oct. 23 of the Mashpee’s land-in-trust application. Should the land in-trust application meet final approval, the federal government will take designated land in Taunton and Mashpee territory into trust for the tribe.

Although the compact was not subject to amendment, it faced opposition from some legislators who pointed to the Supreme Court ruling on a case brought by then-Governor of Rhode Island Donald L. Carcieri that limited the number of legal Indian tribes to those under federal jurisdiction in 1934 or earlier.

Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard, Eric Shepard, National Indian Gaming Commission, Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, Deval L. Patrick, Mashpee Wampanoag

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