Federal judge denies Wampanoag tribe’s request to review casino decision

The tribe has said it will appeal.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) plans to appeal a judge’s decision barring the use of its community center for gaming. – MVTimes file photo — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

In a one-sentence decision issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV denied a request by lawyers for the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to reconsider his ruling that the tribe cannot turn its long-unused community center into a gambling hall.

“After careful consideration and review, the [152] motion of defendants and counterclaim-plaintiffs for reconsideration is denied,” the court said.

The tribe is now expected to file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Judge Saylor’s decision was in response to a 22-page motion to reconsider filed on Dec. 11. Tribal lawyer Scott Crowell, who heads the Crowell Law Office Tribal Advocacy Group, based in Sedona, Ariz., said in his motion there were “several material errors” in Judge Saylor’s ruling.

Mr. Crowell based his legal arguments on parallels with the efforts of two tribes in Texas to operate gaming facilities there despite efforts by the state to limit the tribes.

Judge Saylor’s 40-page decision, issued Nov. 13, was a sweeping victory for the town of Aquinnah, the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association, and the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Judge Saylor said the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), signed in 1988, does not trump the Settlement Act, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987.

The settlement agreement stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time, and it has formed the bedrock of the longstanding legal relationship between the tribe and the rest of the Martha’s Vineyard community.

The 6,500-square-foot building slated to become a bingo hall was originally intended to be a community center. It was erected at taxpayer expense just off the entrance road to the tribal lands by two teams of Air Force reservists in 2004 and 2005, as a civil engineering community project. The shell has sat dormant and unfinished since the citizen-soldiers departed.