Wampanoags Hope To Cash In on Casino

Rolling the DICE ELECTIONS '94 First in a three series

MARTHA'S VINEYARD--A 45-minute steamship ride brings tourists by the thousands to this island resort, where the big attractions are quaint general stores, summer homes of the rich and famous and miles of unspoiled beaches.

But where the tourist buses don't go, down the rustic road far past John Belushi's grave and Jackie O's sprawling compound, lie the tribal lands of the Wampanoags.

Once the sole inhabitants of the island, the Wampanoags have long been distant--both geographically and economically--from the heartbeat of the island's tourism industry. Recently, though, the tribe has begun to come into its own.

In the lobby of its spanking new headquarters, the tribal council sells Wampanoags T-shirts to passing visitors. The tribe recently began building the first housing units ever built on tribal land.

And now the Wampanoags want to open a casino.

But while Gov. William F. Weld '66 has given the Wampanoags a green light, Democratic opponent Mark Roosevelt '78 has spent much of his campaign lambasting Weld's support for gambling, which he sees as a corrupt institution of questionable benefit to the region.

It's more than simply a difference of opinion. Gambling, perhaps the issue that most clearly distinguishes the two moderates' agendas, promises to be a focal point of the campaign until the election only three weeks from now.

And in this day when casinos are sprouting up all over the country and almost no state is without a lottery, gambling--and its effects on society--is becoming one of the most vexing issues in public life.

The Wampanoags, it seems, are caught in the middle.

The Plan

The tribe's plan calls the building of a multi-million-dollar complex--no one will say exactly how much the project would cost--which would offer casino gaming, along with a family-oriented theme park, shops and restaurants.

The enterprise would, in theory, provide 5,000 to 7,000 jobs for the area around New Bedford, the fourth-largest city in Massachusetts and one plagued by economic hardship in recent years.

The New Bedford site is on the

Massachusetts mainland, just across Vineyard Sound from the Wampanoag tribal land. The tribe hopes the casino would draw tourists on their way to Martha's Vineyard as well as pleasure-seekers willing to make the 90-minute trip from Boston.

The idea originated with Weld's recent plan to finance a new Megaplex, a state convention center and sports arena, with riverboat casinos and the statewide distribution of slot machines. When Weld's project began to succumb to political opposition, the Wampanoag tribal council stepped forward with its own gaming proposal.