Massachusetts’ embrace of casino economy will harm us all


Gaming will abuse the people and sully the government of Massachusetts. But, in a collaboration between the legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick, the casino bill that became law last year permits as many as three casinos in Massachusetts, and one of them, in the southeastern part of the state, is temporarily reserved for a federally recognized tribe. There are two such tribes, the Wampanoag tribe of Aquinnah and its analog, the Wampanoag tribe of Mashpee.

Thankfully, for the purpose of casino operations, Southeastern Massachusetts does not include Martha’s Vineyard. Or so we thought.

As Aquinnah counsel Ron Rappaport advised, the combination of state and federal laws and the 1983 Settlement Agreement between the non-resident taxpayers of (then) Gay Head and the Aquinnah tribe, plus state Supreme Court decisions, will not allow a casino on Martha’s Vineyard. But this week the Wampanoag tribe of Aquinnah has signaled that it may build a Class II gaming facility in what was to be its community center.

There are several reasons to have faith in Mr. Rappaport’s judgment, not least of which is that his view has been consistently supported despite small scale efforts by the tribe to escape the restrictions its members agreed to so long ago. Still, unwavering vigilance will be required of Vineyarders who abhor the notion of casino gambling getting a foothold on this Island. Most important to the effort to repel such boarders, given the pusillanimity of Massachusetts politicians, is that, without question, geography, inaccessibility, and the political Balkanization of Martha’s Vineyard serve us well. A casino here is liable to be a very pesky enterprise indeed, and financially unattractive. That view suggests that the tribe’s vote in favor of a casino here may be part of the jockeying now underway to carve a place for the Wampanoag tribe in the casino future on the mainland nearby.

But, unless the Aquinnah tribe’s chief goal of a Southeastern Massachusetts casino comes to fruition, a legal attack to find a way through the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the state Supreme Judicial Court holdings, and the federal Indian Gaming Act provisions may be launched to make casino gambling in Aquinnah possible.

The temporary reservation of one gaming location in Southeastern Massachusetts for a federally recognized Indian tribe does not mean that either the Mashpee or the Aquinnah members of their respective Indian nations will finance and control the development of a casino. They will join investors and experienced casino developers who will finance and organize the campaign for permission and, if successful, the implementation of their development and operational plans. Underlying all the enthusiasm for casinos among politicians, Indians, and gamblers, there is a greater and more influential enthusiasm for business success and derivative enrichment of public and private dependents. Governor Patrick’s exclusion of the Aquinnah tribe from participating in negotiations for a mainland gaming foothold – difficult to understand given the record of federal law and the 1983 agreement – has given an uncertain spur to the notion of a casino on Martha’s Vineyard.

To those who criticize the drive for Massachusetts to get into the casino business, this is all troubling. But, no matter which side of the casino issue one joins, this history suggests that it is the professional gaming industry investors and the State House politicians who befriend and truckle to them who will ultimately control the future of high stakes gaming in the Commonwealth, and maybe here.