Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Aquinnah Wampanoag Indians Would Opt For A Commercial Casino, Not An Indian Casino

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is an article in South Coast Today reporting that the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe would opt for a commercial gaming license, if approved by Massachusetts, instead of an Indian casino on reservation land.

The article also mentions that the Aquinnah Wampanoags are looking at the same city, Fall River, for a possible casino as the Mashpee Wampanoags.

Aquinnah eye casino sites in Freetown, Fall River
By Steve Decosta
South Coast Today
February 02, 2010

The Wampoanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is jumping back into the race to build a casino.

The tribe recently wrote to officials in Freetown saying it had looked at potential sites for a casino in that town and in Fall River and hoped to set up a meeting to discuss its interest.

The Aquinnah's letter, signed by Naomi Carney, chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Gaming Corp., and Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the tribal council, seems to indicate the Aquinnah would seek a private gaming license, should one become available, rather than operating a tribal casino on sovereign land.

Neither Carney nor Andrews-Maltais returned calls seeking comment.

"As the legalized gaming debate comes to the forefront of the Massachusetts Legislature, (the tribe) would like to reiterate our interest in acquiring a gaming license in the commonwealth of Massachusetts," the letter said.

A bill proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008 would have given the state's only two federally recognized tribes preference in the awarding of three casino gaming licenses. The Legislature is developing new legislation, with a vote expected early this year, but it isn't known if the new bill would give the tribes any advantage.

The other tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag, is seeking to take land into trust in Middleboro for the purpose of building a resort casino, should expanded gaming be approved by the state Legislature. The Mashpee tribe also recently indicated an interest in locating that casino in Fall River instead.

Freetown Selectman Lawrence Ashley said he left a voice-mail message for the Aquinnah last week but had yet to receive a response.

"We've had companies coming into town before kicking the tires on a couple of different locations," Ashley said. "A casino is no different than any other company. They're looking for the best deal."

Ashley said several sites in town would be suitable for a casino. "There are areas that could open up with the new Exit 8½ (off Route 24) off-ramp that's opening up," he said.

The tribe didn't pinpoint the locations it had investigated, but the letter said, "Both sites are rural and wooded in nature, a setting which the tribe feels best complements our image of where to build a more traditional and cultural styled facility."

While the Aquinnah have been less vociferous than their counterparts from Mashpee in recent gaming debates, they have been involved much longer. They began in the early 1990s, proposing a casino in New Bedford, and executed a memorandum of understanding with then-Gov. William Weld in 1994 to build a resort casino at the New Bedford Municipal Golf Course on Hathaway Road but couldn't push that deal through the Legislature. Despite the support of Gov. Paul Cellucci, another effort in 2001 similarly failed.

"Although our tribe has not been very vocal recently, we have been watching the debate and the change of attitude toward legalized gaming within the governing body of the commonwealth," the letter said. "We would like the opportunity to discuss our continued interest in gaming and how we can mutually benefit from the expansion of gaming, increase of revenues, expansion of jobs, and the exploration of other economic development opportunities."