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Lakeville rejects Aquinnah casino proposal

A nonbinding referendum vote on the Aquinnah tribe’s casino proposal brought opponents out in the rain to the George Austin Intermediate School on Saturday.

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

A nonbinding referendum vote on the Aquinnah tribe’s casino proposal brought opponents out in the rain to the George Austin Intermediate School on Saturday.

LAKEVILLE — Lakeville residents braved a pounding rain Saturday and voted by a 10-to-1 ratio against a proposal by the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah to build a casino in their town.

The nonbinding referendum was the second of its kind in less than a week and leaves the Aquinnah without the support of the two towns where they had hoped a casino could be located. Freetown residents voted last Tuesday against the casino proposal by a 3-to-1 ratio.

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Despite the setbacks, Aquinnah chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said the tribe will continue to pursue its plan.

“We’ll be staying the course,” said Andrews-Maltais. “We’re still very interested in pursuing our options to game, and we’ll continue to explore all options.”

The proposed $167 million casino would sit on about 40 acres along Route 140 in Lakeville and Freetown, and would include a 150-room hotel, a retail space, and a buffer zone that tribe officials say would keep it from encroaching on residents of either town. The casino would occupy about 145,000 square feet and would offer 36 table games, poker tables, and 2,700 slot machines.

In Lakeville, the vote was 1,735 opposed to the casino and 172 in favor, with 27 percent of Lakeville’s registered voters casting ballots.

“The town has spoken . . .,” said Board of Selectmen chairman Derek Maksy. “No casinos for Lakeville.”

Andrews-Maltais said she was surprised by the lopsided margin, but not by the outcome. The next step for the tribe will be to focus on how to connect better with residents of both towns, who she said may not have fully understood the issue.

“If you asked two people what you’re voting on, I’m not sure you’d get the same answer,” she said. “It’s time to take an assessment of what kind of message do we want to put out there.”

The tribe will focus on talks with the state, she said, which has stalled over a question of whether the Aquinnah have the right to build a casino in Massachusetts at all.

State officials have said the tribe gave up its rights to pursue tribal gambling in a 1980s settlement of a land dispute on Martha’s Vineyard. According to state officials, the settlement subjects Aquinnah land to state law, which includes restrictions to casino gambling.

Andrews-Maltais said the tribe does have the right to build the casino and is holding out hope that talks with the state will move forward.

“The ball is essentially in the governor’s court,” said Andrews-Maltais.

Asked if the tribe might try to challenge the state’s position legally, she said leaders were keeping all of their options open.

In Saturday’s rainy weather, foes of the casino proposal camped out in front of the polling place, holding anticasino signs and shouting and waving to cars driving past.

“I believe we are fighting for our lives,” said Lakeville resident Sue Murray, who spent the day protesting the casino plans. The casino, she said, would fundamentally damage the town and is too close to the town schools.

Protesters from Lakeville and Freetown said the casino would overwhelm their small, rural communities.

“We are concerned about quality of life, we are concerned about infrastructure,” said East Freetown resident Rhonda Silvia-Alves.

She said she was worried construction of the casino would require the blasting of a local quarry, which she said could harm the water supply. And neither Freetown nor Lakeville, she said, are equipped to handle the crush of traffic that would accompany a casino.

“These are country roads,” she said. “They are the same roads that our school buses drive on, that our children wait on.”

Others worried a casino would bring an undesirable element into the area.

“It attracts the sort of people you don’t want around,” said Lakeville resident Sylvester Zienkiewicz. “Once you start hanging around there, you’re ruined.’’

Opponents vowed to fight the casino every step of the way.

“This whole situation has united these two towns,” said Lakeville resident Peggy Riendeau, who sported red dice earrings and a homemade shirt emblazoned with the phrase “no dice.”

“I moved to the suburbs to have a different way of life, a different quality of life,” she said in an interview before the results had come in. “I hope that the Aquinnah Indians after today’s vote realize no means no.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com.
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