Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe wins approval for liquor ordinance

The clay cliffs in Aquinnah, Massachusetts, the home of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe. Photo by Jens Dahlin / Flickr

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts could offer liquor at its controversial Class II gaming facility.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced approval of the tribe's liquor ordinance in a notice that was published in the Federal Register last week. It states that liquor can only be sold at "tribal gaming facilities, and at tribal hotels, concert venues, and golf courses."

The tribe, however, would still need to meet local and state licensing requirements before offering liquor, an attorney told The Vineyard Gazette. But local officials are hoping it doesn't get that far.

“The bottom line is, no casino, no alcohol, and that’s what we’re in federal court for,” Ronald H. Rappaport, the attorney for the town of Aquinnah, told the paper.

The New England Casino Race: Tribal and commercial gaming facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

The tribe plans to convert an unfinished community center into a 6,500 square-foot gaming facility. A federal judge is hearing arguments tomorrow on the town's request to halt construction on the project.

State and local officials claim that the Massachusetts Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1987 bars the tribe from opening the casino. The law subjects the reservation to state and local laws.

But the Interior Department and the National Indian Gaming Commission believe the tribe can follow the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which became law a year after the settlement act. The federal agencies are not involved in the pending lawsuit.

In 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the settlement law subjects the tribe to state jurisdiction. The case, however, did not involve gaming.

The tribe's reservation is located on the island of Martha's Vineyard

Get the Story:
Tribe Takes First Step to Serve Alcohol in Gambling Hall Planned for Aquinnah (The Vineyard Gazette 7/25)

Some Opinions:
Editorial: Collapse of New Bedford plan signals caution on Southeastern Mass. casinos (The Boston Globe 7/26)
Editorial: And then there was one (The Boston Herald 7/27)

Federal Register Notice:
Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Liquor Control Ordinance 14-01 (July 21, 2015)

Relevant Documents:
Solicitor Letter to Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe (August 23, 2013)
NIGC Letter to Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe (October 25, 2013)
Press Release: GSB Client Aquinnah Wampanoag to be First to Game in Massachusetts (November 12, 2013)

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Members of Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe debate casino bid (7/21)
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Judge sets hearing in Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe casino case (7/15)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe faces court action over casino bid (7/14)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe might stop work on Class II project (7/13)
Editorial: Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe's wrong approach on casino (7/9)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe ignores order to stop working on casino (7/7)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe told to stop working on gaming facility (7/6)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe starts work on Class II gaming facility (7/3)

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