Lakeville vote is strike two for Wampanoag Tribe casino

The Aquinnah Wampanoag gaming website provided many reasons why voters in Lakeville and Freetown should support a casino.

Promises of jobs, money for town coffers, and an environmental buffer zone were not enough to convince Lakeville voters to support a Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) proposal to build a $167 million casino in their community.

On a rainy wind-swept day, 1,735 voters said no and 172 yes to the project in a nonbinding referendum on Saturday, June 2. Turnout was 27 percent of the town’s registered voters.

In a similar vote on May 29, voters in Freetown also rejected a proposal to build a casino. The Freetown tally was 954-308 against the multimillion dollar proposal.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe and its backers have proposed to build a $167-million casino resort on 500 acres straddling the two communities along Route 140.

Lakeville voters who opposed the casino plan described the negative effect they said it would have on their town’s quality of life and infrastructure, according to the Boston Globe.

After the vote, Wampanoag chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said voters may not have fully understood the issues. Following the Freetown vote, Ms. Andrews-Maltais said, in a prepared statement, “The outcome was disappointing, but truly not unexpected. Confused voters vote no. Rushed voters vote no. Uncertainty results in a no vote. Risk of litigation results in a no vote. Lack of detail results in a no vote.”

Ms. Andrews-Maltais criticized the timelines associated with the casino bill that Gov. Deval Patrick signed last year. The law permits up to three casinos in Massachusetts, with the southeastern region license temporarily reserved for a federally recognized tribe.

Local approval is a requirement of the law, which provides the only two federally recognized tribes in the state with a head start before the process is thrown open to a commercial casino developer on July 31.

Taunton will hold a citywide referendum vote Saturday on a proposal by the Mashpee Wampanoag to build a $500 million casino in that city.

Monday, Governor Deval Patrick told the State House News service negotiations over a revenue-sharing agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe for a resort-casino license in southeastern Massachusetts are on track to meet the July 31 deadline for a compact to be in place and ratified by the Legislature. “We will finish the negotiations in time, and we’re trying to finish it early enough for the Legislature to have time to act on it before they go out of session. I think the conversations have been going very well. I’m regularly briefed and I should get updated again this week,” Mr. Patrick said.

“If Aquinnah doesn’t get the opportunity to game under state law, we will be back again reaching out to the communities of Lakeville and Freetown to game under federal law,” Ms. Andrews-Maltais said. “The timelines are far more reasonable, and the ability to work closely with the host community in the critical planning stages is far more realistic.”

As a fallback position, the tribe has said that it would turn its as yet unused community center in Aquinnah into a “boutique” casino.

Aquinnah selectmen have said they will oppose any effort to develop a casino in the Island’s smallest town. Aquinnah town counsel Ron Rappaport has said the Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head Inc. cannot legally operate a gaming casino in Aquinnah, based on the terms of the 1983 Settlement Act that preceded federal recognition of the tribe.