BOSTON — A Martha’s Vineyard town and a local taxpayer’s association can join the state’s lawsuit challenging plans to build a gambling facility on tribal land on the resort island, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor said the Town of Aquinnah and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association have legal standing to intervene in the lawsuit brought by Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration because both entities, along with the state, were party to a 1983 settlement that gave the Aquinnah Wampanoags, a federally recognized tribe, ownership of roughly 400 acres on the western tip of Martha’s Vineyard.
The tribe proposes turning an unfinished community center on that land into a gambling hall with high-stakes bingo and poker-style electronic games. But the state says such a facility would violate the 1983 land accord.
The agreement, which was signed by the state, town, taxpayers association and the tribe, conveyed the land to the tribe with the understanding that the state’s jurisdiction would never be “impaired or otherwise altered” and the tribe would not “exercise sovereign jurisdiction” over the land.
But with state lawmakers opening the door to private casino and slot parlor development in 2011, the tribe began looking into opening its own gambling facility.
The tribe maintains it has the right to operate the type of gaming facility it proposes – regardless of whether it has state approval – since it does not call for traditional slot parlor machines or casino table games such as blackjack or roulette.