The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is asking an appeals court judge to overturn a lower court ruling that is standing in the way of its Island gambling facility.
On Tuesday, attorneys for the tribe filed a 177-page brief that spells out its case for the First Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor IV. In his June ruling, Saylor said the tribe must seek town permits to build its Class II casino — essentially an electronic bingo hall — on reservation land.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag are allowed to build a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988. In what’s been a lengthy legal battle with the state, the tribe’s position is that IGRA superseded a land agreement reached between the tribe and the state in 1987. The lawsuit began in 2015 with then-Gov. Deval Patrick filing suit in state court. The case was moved to federal court, where there have been as many twists and turns as an up-Island road.
The brief filed Tuesday by tribe attorney Scott Crowell calls Saylor’s ruling “repugnant to IGRA’s comprehensive and sophisticated regulatory scheme,” and seeks an injunction against the town.
The lower court ruling, “if allowed to stand, will deprive the tribe of those rights and privileges which IGRA affords other Indian tribes, and will destabilize the jurisdictional structure of Indian gaming throughout the United States,” the brief states. “Moreover, allowing the decision to stand will violate the United States’ jurisdiction over the land it holds in trust for the Tribe, by requiring the United States to be subordinate to state and local laws.”
The tribe appeared to be cleared for takeoff when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by the commonwealth and town to hear the case in January 2018. But in a legal maneuver last year, the town requested final judgment by Saylor in the case. While Saylor found the tribe was within its legal rights to build a casino, he also said that would require local and state permits. In July, Saylor issued an injunction against construction of the facility, and the tribe and town came to an agreement on securing the site.
The tribe appealed to the First Circuit, where its first appeal was successful in 2017. Among the arguments made in the lengthy brief is that Saylor erred by even considering the case, because 150 days had passed since the lower court docketed the appeals court mandate.
Last week, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission said its fairly recent entry into the legal squabble has cost the regional planning agency $89,000.