Aquinnah Bingo Case Before Appeals Court

By Ben Hamill - September 17 2020
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Aquinnah Bingo Case Before Appeals Court

The building of a Bingo hall and gaming venue on the western side of Martha’s Vineyard by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is an issue long already in contention – with the town of Aquinnah trying all that it can to prevent the native American tribe from receiving the construction go-ahead from court. What had initially started out as a local municipal issue soon ended up a dispute argued before a U.S. District Court Judge and will eventually now have to be adjudicated by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

The tribe has expressed its dissatisfaction with a 2019 ruling handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor, who last year ordered that even though the state of Massachusetts and Aquinnah town aren’t at liberty to enforce on the tribe any gaming laws, the tribe will still have to comply with all local construction and operating laws and regulations.

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Town Now Using Different Angle

The argument now brought before court by the tribe’s legal representative is that of the Massachusetts town trying to stop the tribe from proceeding with its plans and in a way equal to by hook or by crook. Says attorney David Scott Crowell, legal representative of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Judge Saylor’s 2019 decision ultimately allows the town to still stop the construction from happening – only now in an indirect manner.

William Jay, legal representative for Aquinnah town, has however argued that the District Court made it abundantly clear that its 2019 ruling wasn’t based on the theory that local town ordinances can or should be used to prevent a gaming facility from being developed. The court stated clearly that its business was with upholding generally applicable local municipal and town authority laws.

Local laws still apply, said Jay, and it is this particular concept the tribe continues to resist.

Tribe Wants To Support Members

The native American tribe’s plan involves the construction of a 10,000 square-foot Bingo hall and adjacent gaming machines entertainment facility, a bar, outdoor seating area, and mobile vendor area for food and drink.

But since these involve an array of restrictions and allowances typically decided by local town authorities and relevant taxpayers’ associations, the tribe will, given the 2019 ruling, still have to obtain permissions related to everything from parking to aesthetic to environmental municipal laws and by-laws.

The tribe has traditionally argued that the construction of the Bingo hall and accompanying gaming and entertainment facility is crucial in terms of its own ability to provide an income and livelihood to its people.

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