Tribe's casino plan roils quaint Martha's Vineyard

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 25, 2014 at 8:58 am •  Published: August 25, 2014

The plan, she said, is about bringing "economic self-sufficiency" to a roughly 1,200-member tribe that is "totally reliant" on federal subsidies and grants to provide services.

The tribe is not saying how much revenue it believes the casino — which will not offer traditional slot machines or casino tables games like blackjack and roulette — could generate.

Currently, the tribe's annual budget hovers around $5 million, which, Andrews-Maltais said, mostly goes to providing elder care, child care, health care, home heating aid and other services for members who live on the island.

"Gaming has never been a panacea; however, it's a catalyst," she said. "You need money to make money."

The Aquinnah Wampanoags received federal recognition in 1987 but trace their lineage to the inhabitants of the region some 10,000 years ago, whose legends hold that a giant created the island and taught their people to fish and catch whales.

Only about a quarter of the tribe's members live on Martha's Vineyard today. Most live on the mainland.

Of those on Martha's Vineyard, a number live in Aquinnah, where the median price for a single-family house is around $655,000, according to the Warren Group, which tracks real estate sales data throughout New England.

Many tribal members struggle, like other full-time islanders, to secure steady jobs and affordable housing, Andrews-Maltais said.

The tribe offers only about 30 units of subsidized housing on its lands, and few can afford to own property outright in Aquinnah or other communities "up-island," which have become favored destinations for the well-heeled.

Some tribal members living near the proposed casino site have concerns, despite the potential benefits.

"Everyone on this street has young kids," said Nerissa Marshall, as she played with her son in front of her home in the tribal housing development. "They really have to work out the safety issues."

Other members question how profitable the casino could be, and wonder how it will attract customers during the two-thirds of the year when the western part of the island all but shuts down. And still others complain they've not heard enough to form an opinion because the tribe hasn't communicated details.

Andrews-Maltais stressed that the initial proposal is modest. And she promised the initial plans, which have not been revealed publicly, will address many of the traffic, safety and other quality-of-life concerns: "We're not building the Taj Mahal."