Martha’s Vineyard Gets The Greenlight For Tribal Bingo Parlor

Written By Steve Ruddock on January 9, 2018 - Last Updated on January 31, 2023
Cape Cod Lighthouse

[toc]One of the two Massachusetts tribes trying to open a gambling establishment in Massachusetts got some good news this week.

The Supreme Court of the United States decided not to hear the case of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe. This decision leaves a lower court ruling in place authorizing the tribe to open a gambling hall in the town of Aquinnah, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

The case revolved around an agreement between the tribe and the town of Aquinnah from the 1980’s. It gave the tribe 500 acres of land, but prohibited gambling. The tribe argued that the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act superseded the agreement since it allows federally recognized tribes to open gaming establishments provided the games weren’t prohibited by stated law.

The courts agree with the tribe, and the gambling hall is going to open.


As currently constituted, the gambling hall would be little more than a modern bingo parlor, with live bingo games and 300 electronic bingo machines.

Because bingo is classified as Class II gambling like poker, the tribe won’t have to enter into a compact with the state, something that would be necessary if it wanted to operate Class III gaming, such as slot machines and house-banked table games.

But that doesn’t rule out the tribe going down that road in the future. The bingo parlor could simply be the opening salvo.

Is bingo a precursor to a casino?

When Massachusetts legalized casino gambling in 2011, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe proposed a full casino. That effort was met by strong resistance from the state and from local residents. The backlash led to the Class II gaming hall proposal, which residents also challenged.

But even if the Tribe could convince the state to enter into a Class III gaming compact to offer a full suite a casino gaming, it would have a rough go of it, considering its location.

Martha’s Vineyard sits four miles off the coast of Cape Cod. While it’s a tourist hotspot with a population of over 100,000 during the summer months, the island has harsh winters and a small year-round population of just 17,000 residents. Those are far from ideal conditions to open a casino.

But that’s not the case when it comes to another branch of the Wampanoag family.

The other Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts

While the Aquinnah Wampanoags celebrate, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe (a separate federally recognized tribe of Wampanoag people) impatiently waits on a decision from the Department of the Interior regarding its proposed billion-dollar casino in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Unlike the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag casino proposal was largely welcomed by local government and residents, and the tribe entered into a compact with the state.

And, as PlayMA has been chronicling, that’s when everything went haywire.

  • The DOI placed the tribe’s land into trust in September 2015, green-lighting the First Light Casino.
  • Construction stalled when a group of Taunton residents filed suit and won their case on the grounds that the Department of the Interior wrongly put the tribe’s land into trust.
  • The tribe appealed the ruling, but later dropped the case.
  • At the same time, the tribe requested the DOI reexamine its land in trust application ondifferent grounds.
  • The DOI decision was expected on June 19, but it delayed the decision until June 27.
  • Expecting the decision to go against it, the tribe withdrew its request on June 26.
  • Within days, the DOI rejected the tribe’s decision to withdraw its request and reopened the case.
  • All submissions were due on  13, and the DOI will make a decision in the coming, days, weeks, or months.

As of Jan. 8, the DOI had not reached a decision.

Photo by Michael Gordon /

Steve Ruddock Avatar
Written by
Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a veteran of the poker media, contributing to offline and online publications centered on the regulated US online gambling industry. These include,, as well as USA Today. Steve is based in Massachusetts and is also a poker player.

View all posts by Steve Ruddock
Privacy Policy