US Supreme Court Rejects Review of Martha’s Vineyard Casino Case

The US Supreme Court today denied a petition for certiorari filed in August by the state of Massachusetts, the town of Aquinnah, and a local community group in relation to the potential opening of a gambling hall on the Martha’s Vineyard island.

The three above-mentioned parties are opposing plans previously introduced by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) for converting a community center into an electronic bingo facility. By filing with the Supreme Court, opponents of the project hoped to overturn a First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from last summer.

While a review by the nation’s highest ranking court could have changed the current state of affairs and could have helped the opposing group in their war against the gambling facility, it was always a long shot. The Supreme Court traditionally approves for review a very small portion of the average of 9,000 cases it receives.

Why Has the Bingo Hall Project Gained So Much Opposition?

The legal conflict between the tribe, Aquinnah and Massachusetts stemmed from the tribal officials’ plan to turn the Martha’s Vineyard community center into a bingo hall. Opponents of the bingo hall plan maintained that under a 1987 settlement agreement between the state and the tribe, the latter cannot use its property for gambling purposes. However, the tribe argued that the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act superseded that 1987 act.

The town and the state brought the matter to court and scored a victory in a lower court. However, an appeals court overturned that ruling and sided with the tribe at a later stage. The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari means that the Court of Appeals’ decision stands as a final one.

The gaming facility the tribe is planning to build will have slots-like machines that will feature only electronic bingo machines. Tribal officials have previously pointed out that the venue could generate $4.5 million annually, which could be used for improvements in the area and for funding different social causes.

However, concerns have been voiced that a gambling facility could hurt the town and could even have negative impact on the state’s nascent land-based casino industry. To the latter concerns, the tribe has responded by saying that the revenue it could generate from its 6,500-square-foot facility would represent only a fraction of what full-scale casino resorts like Wynn Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield, currently under development in Everett and Springfield, are expected to generate on an annual basis.

The tribe’s Martha’s Vineyard building was completed last year, after multiple delays, with the intention to serve as a community center. It is yet to be seen whether it will be converted into a gaming facility now as the Supreme Court has decided not to review the case, and what moves opponents of the project will undertake to prevent it from succeeding.

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