Tribe okays feasibility study for Island casino

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), in a meeting August 1, approved a feasibility study for a casino on tribal land in the town of Aquinnah. How serious the tribe is about pursuing a gambling hall in the Island’s smallest town remains unclear.

“There’s no news on that horizon,” Naomi Carney, Aquinnah Wampanoag gaming corporation chairman, said when reached by The Times and asked about the vote to authorize a study. “There is nothing to tell on that as of yet. It is way too premature.”

The tribe owns a 7.2 acre lot known as the Cook Lands, that is taxed and zoned for marine commercial use, according to records in the office of the town assessor. A larger 13 acre parcel on State Road taken in trust for the tribe is zoned for residential use.

The debate over gambling has taken on attributes of poker and chess. Whether the vote is a part of a wider strategy, a bluff, or a serious effort to move forward remains to be seen.

At a State House press conference on June 8, Ms. Carney and Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the tribe’s chairman, said they would construct a gaming facility on their 450 acres on Martha’s Vineyard if the tribe did not receive a state gambling license under the proposed law (June 10, “Tribe says trump card is an Island casino“).

The two tribe leaders, who are sisters, made their comments at the time the state Senate was holding a public hearing on a bill that would have allowed three resort casinos segregated by region — eastern, southeastern, and western Massachusetts — and there was a strong likelihood that the House and the Senate would agree to casino gambling in Massachusetts.

The Senate version of a gambling bill called for two casino licenses to be bid competitively, and a third designated for a qualified Native American tribe.

But when expanded gambling legislation emerged from a House-Senate conference committee in the waning hours of the legislative session, Gov. Deval Patrick rejected it because it contained a provision for a racetrack slot facility. What happens next is unclear.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag are locked in competition with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which has moved aggressively to position itself to cash in on a casino and is considered the favorite by pundits.