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Martha’s Vineyard mixed on Aquinnah casino

Some worry about tourist influx, others see a boost for businesses

WEST TISBURY — As year-round islanders bundled up for the first snowfall, the vast majority of restaurants and inns shuttered for the winter, it was hard for residents to imagine what it would be like if a tribal casino makes a debut on the island.

But they agreed on one thing: Things sure would be different.

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As news spread around the island that the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah plans to pursue a casino project in Gay Head — and news spreads quickly here — opinions were mixed on whether one of the state’s most sheltered communities is an appropriate location for the first casino in Massachusetts.

Mark Przybylo, a 46-year-old year-rounder who works at the Vineyard Golf Club, put it pretty bluntly.

“It won’t happen here,” he said, maintaining that the community is too resistant to change to ever make the casino a success.

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Joe Keenan, who frequents the general store in West Tisbury, shook his head when he heard the news. More tourists, he said, and more commercialism brought to the island? Residents such as himself, who take pride in the island being more than just a slew of vacation homes for the uber-wealthy, would find it difficult to support such an endeavor.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Joe Keenan said he is concerned the island will be flooded with people who don’t have its “vibe.”

“Do we need another thing that brings people to this place already overrun by people who don’t have the vibe, who don’t have any concept of the vibe?” Keenan said.

Already, he said, it concerns him how much the island is taken over by tourists in the summer. Locals avoid the beaches, take little-known back roads, and stay away from the most popular shops and restaurants in an effort to stay away from out-of-towners. He worried that a casino would make that summertime influx a year-round experience.

“People come and they think it’s this playground,” Keenan said. “But all the hype around the Vineyard is purely superficial.”

But others had a more optimistic take.

James Cage, owner of Rosebud Balloons in Oak Bluffs, shrugged when he heard the plans for a casino.

“Sure,” Cage said, “it would be good for business. It should have been done years ago.”

He pointed out the front door of his business, on Oak Bluffs’ main drag, where almost all the businesses were closed for the season. With a casino, he said, that could change.

And with a little coordination from the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, he said, businesses could rally behind the casino, and the influx of tourists could help keep money flowing throughout the winter.

“Think about it: A casino means parties, events, functions,” Cage said. “They’ll need balloons. We have balloons. This could be good for us.”

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

A large rock marked the entrance to the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah land on Martha’s Vineyard

At Basics Clothing Company, an apparel store a few doors down, Hayley Plante hung up clothes on racks in the nearly empty store. When the 22-year-old heard about the casino, her eyes grew wide at the prospect.

A casino, on the island? Not only did she think it would a great economic boon for the community, she said, she would go there herself.

“If they do it in the winter, it would give us islanders something to do,” Plante said.

As a lifelong islander, she said, she knows that the Vineyard in the off-season can be less than stimulating

“It might help,” Plante said. “A lot of kids like to get into trouble, just because they don’t have anything to do. If they’re of age, maybe they can go here.”

Plante’s co-worker was more on the fence at the idea of a casino, though she acknowledged that casinos seem to work in other parts of the country.

“Now, if they had a bowling alley in the casino,” the co-worker said, “that would be something.”

Residents smirked at the idea that the casino would lead to an uptick in crime or an influx of the wrong element among the ranks of tourists.

“I don’t think there’d be any crime,” Plante said. “Our island is too good for that.”

At a nearby Mexican cantina, Dennis Logan, a nine-year Vineyard resident, said he believed the community’s geographic inaccessibility makes it less susceptible to the potential for crime and troublemaking that has concerned other communities mulling casinos.

“We’re on an island,” Logan said. “To do something bad here, you’ve got to be pretty stupid, because you’re not going to get away.”

Kathy Magistrini, a New Jersey transplant who owns Rouge Luxe Apothecary in Oak Bluffs, was warm at first to the idea of a casino coming to the Vineyard.

After all, she said, she has been known to enjoy some casual gambling, and she believes that the prospect could bring others to the island.

But as she thought about it more, she questioned whether a casino could be successful in a place where tourists would have to take an hourlong ferry ride or a flight on an airplane for a night of gambling.

“If I didn’t live here, would I come here to gamble?” said Magistrini. “Maybe not. Who’s going to come here in the dead of winter?”

“But I guess,” she continued, “who am I to say?”

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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