Aquinnah selectmen have asked the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to review plans by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to build a gambling facility on reservation lands.
On Thursday, the commission acknowledged receipt of the letter, but chairman Douglas Sederholm said the town would have to make a formal referral, putting the ball back in the town’s court.
In a letter dated Jan. 16, signed by all three Aquinnah selectmen, the town reported that selectman Jim Newman and town counsel Ronald Rappaport met with tribe officials to discuss plans for the Class II gaming facility, which is licensed under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
The town believes the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has jurisdiction over the property, but says the tribe is balking at that. “In our view, there has never been a proposed development contemplated in Aquinnah that could have more potential regional impacts than this proposed gaming facility,” the letter states. “Since the tribe has stated that they do not seek review from the MVC, we are asking that you take action to protect your statutory rights to review this proposed facility.”
Instead, commissioners will ask the town to make formal referral, Sederholm said.
In the town’s letter to the commission, a Jan. 8 letter sent to tribal chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais was also included. It outlines what Newman and Rappaport learned during their meeting with Andrews-Maltais.
“We understand that the tribe intends to utilize the property formerly owned by John D. Weiner shown on Aquinnah assessors map No. 8, parcel No. 7, for the Class II gaming facility,” the letter states. “It is our understanding that the facility is proposed to be of ‘sprung’ construction and will be approximately 10,000 square feet in size. It is our further understanding you do not intend to have a restaurant on the property, but the facility will be serviced by food trucks; that you plan to have approximately 250 gaming machines, but that you do not yet know the size of the proposed parking area; nor do you have projections about the intensity of uses.”
Andrews-Maltais is off-Island, and was not immediately available for comment.
In an interview last month with The Times about the federal government shutdown, Andrews-Maltais said work continues on the tribe’s gambling facility behind the scenes. “We’re getting the underpinnings together to roll out real plans and do outreach with the Chamber and other businesses we want to partner with,” Andrews-Maltais said. “We want to have as many people benefit from our successes as possible.”
At that time she also said she looks forward to where the tribe will be later this year. In August, the tribe announced a partnership with Global Gaming Solutions, a company that’s helped other Indian tribes across the country develop gambling facilities.
It’s been a little over a year now since the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal made by the state, the town, and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association objecting to a gambling facility. That decision allows the tribe to move forward with Class II gaming, which is essentially electronic bingo.
The town is attempting to exert some control over what’s done. “It is our understanding that you do not intend to seek any permits from the town, other than a beer and wine license, or from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission,” the town’s letter to Andrews-Maltais states.
The town asked for a response by Jan. 15. Newman, Rappaport and town administrator Jeffrey Madison were not immediately available Monday.
Reporter Brian Dowd contributed to this report.