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Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe Investing on Martha's Vineyard


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Martha's Vineyard [Wikipedia] is a Massachusetts island getaway known for its summery charm, affluence, and the famous political and cultural icons who spend time there. Actress Meg Ryan calls the island home. President Barack Obama vacations on the "Vineyard” regularly, as does the family of former President Bill Clinton. Famous personalities like Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Jake Gyllenhaal have been spotted on the island. Celebrities love the location because of the privacy it affords them; wealthy locals have a healthy respect for their famous neighbors and rarely exploit them with unwelcome photo shoots or other paparazzi-like behavior.

Landscape of Martha's Vineyard
The beautiful landscape of Martha's Vineyard

Recently, many island dwellers and visitors became upset when leaders of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe announced their intention to construct a casino on the island. The leaders would like to turn an unfinished piece of tribal land into a bingo parlor/poker hall complete with electronic betting terminals, or EBTs. Critics say the new building would disrupt the tranquility and unique, ocean-side charm that Martha's Vineyard residents and visitors have always enjoyed.

Townspeople Fear Increased Crime

Julianne Vanderhoop, a local government figure in the area, recited a laundry list of her fears for what might happen if a casino were to set up shop on Martha's Vineyard, including “theft, vandalism, drugs, (and) alcohol.” Interestingly, Vanderhoop is not only a representative of local government; she is also an Aquinas Wampanoag tribal member. It seems that not all tribal members on Martha's Vineyard are in favor of the proposed casino project.

A Way for Native Americans to Share Tourist Dollars

Even those who don't support the addition of a casino can understand why tribe members would want to build one. Local businessman Eugene Goldfield thinks a casino on the Vineyard would be “an unfortunate way of making an income,” yet he says he understands the tribe's desire for that income. At a vacation destination like Martha's Vineyard where tourist dollars fatten the local economy on a regular basis, it seems unfair that Native Americans who share the land wouldn't also be able to share some of that wealth.

Perks of a Vineyard Casino: Something New and Different

Tribal spokeswoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais offers a different take on the situation. A casino, Andrews-Maltais says, would not be the major draw for tourists who visit the Massachusetts island, but it would provide residents and visitors with something new and different to do. Andrews-Maltais ticks off a short list of activities enjoyed by the inhabitants of the island: beaches, restaurants, movies. A casino would create one more place of leisure for visitors and residents to have fun, she says, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Massachusetts Governor Opposes Casino on Vineyard

Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick does not want to see a casino erected on the illustrious island. According to Patrick, a 1983 ruling in which the Wampanoag forfeited their rights to casino operation still applies today. In spite of the governor's lack of support, the tribe is pursuing the funding it needs to get the project started.

About the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe

Members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe received federal recognition in 1987. The majority of them live on Massachusetts' mainland, while about one quarter live on the island. Some reside in their namesake island town of Aquinnah. Aquinnah is famous for its quiet environment, Gay Head clay cliffs, and a nude seaside bathing spot called the Jungle Beach.

Casino Profitability

Establishing a casino on Martha's Vineyard is a novel idea that admittedly has merit, but skeptics wonder how profitable the proposed tribal facility would actually be. The tribe has yet to release any projected financial data, and because Martha's Vineyard is seasonally popular, it's possible that a casino would struggle for customers during the parts of the year when tourists don't visit as much. The Vineyard's busiest time of year is the summer, when over 100,000 people can be found milling about the island. During the Vineyard's slow season, however, the total population amounts to less than 20,000.

Other Massachusetts Vacation Spots

Massachusetts boasts two other glorious waterfront vacation spots: Cape Cod and Nantucket. Summer visitors on the peninsula of Cape Cod enjoy swimming, fishing, and surfing in the ocean waters. The Cape is known for its beachfront beauty and breathtaking views. Artists, photographers, and musicians gravitate toward the area for its natural inspiration. At this time, no casinos operate on Cape Cod. The nearest gambling hall to Cape Cod is Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort in Ledyard, over 100 miles away. If the Wampanoag tribe opens a facility on Martha's Vineyard, however, residents of Cape Cod will find themselves much closer to gambling opportunity.

Nantucket is an island of about 10,000 people located south of Cape Cod. The population of this colony swells to about 50,000 during the summer. Artists regularly visit Nantucket to paint, photograph, and draw the island's gorgeous seascapes. Nantucket residents wishing to gamble could travel approximately three hours to get to Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park in the Massachusetts town of Raynham or approximately four hours to get to Newport Grand Slots in Rhode Island. Indeed, a new casino on Martha's Vineyard would shorten gamblers' commute considerably.

Nantucket island, Massachusetts
Nantucket island, Massachusetts

At this point, residents of the Vineyard, Cape Cod, and Nantucket must travel many miles to access gambling of any sort. Because of this, the market for a casino in the area of Martha's Vineyard could be a promising one. If the Aquinnah Wampanoag are to be successful, however, they will have to get past the governor of Massachusetts and the skepticism of some Vineyard residents first. They will also have to come up with the $10 million they'd need to construct the casino. It's little more than a pipe dream at this time, but in a few years, the visitors and residents of Martha's Vineyard could have a new way to spend their hours of leisure: a tribal casino.