Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe sees support for Class II gaming plan

Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts. Photo from UNITY / Facebook

The Obama administration is siding with the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe in a gaming dispute with the state of Massachusetts.

Last November, a federal judge ruled that the tribe could not follow the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV determined that the Massachusetts Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1987 requires the tribe to follow local and state laws that do not otherwise authorize a casino.

The Department of Justice is disputing that conclusion in a brief that was filed on Friday The Martha's Vineyard Times reports. Government attorneys say IGRA -- which became law in 1988 -- “implicitly repealed” the 1987 law.

The case is before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. In an earlier case during the 1990s, the court agreed that IGRA repealed a settlement act affecting the Narragansett Tribe in neighboring Rhode Island.

That decision is still on the books but the state's Congressional delegation secured passage of an appropriations rider that prevents the tribe from following IGRA.

A similar situation has arisen in Texas, where the Obama administration has concluded that IGRA repealed gaming prohibitions in two federal laws that apply to the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, also known as the Tigua Tribe, and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.

A federal judge, however, has refused to embrace the new interpretation, at least with respect to the Tigua Tribe, because the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals previously upheld the gaming prohibition in Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Restoration Act. That decision forced the tribe to shut down its casino in 2002.

If the 1st Circuit reaches a different conclusion, it could set the stage for review by the U.S. Supreme Court further down the line.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe has since opened a Class II gaming facility on its reservation but the state has not said whether it will try to have it closed. The 5th Circuit forced the closure of its casino in 2002 based on a gaming prohibition in the Alabama-Coushatta Restoration Act.

The Massachusetts Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Restoration Act and the Alabama-Coushatta Restoration Act all became law in 1987, a year prior to IGRA.

Get the Story:
Obama administration sides with Wampanoag tribe in casino appeal (The Martha's Vineyard Times 6/4)
Justice Department backs island tribe's gaming efforts (The Cape Cod Times 6/6)

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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