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Jun 26, 2008 5:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

County legislators see promise in plans for a casino

Jun 26, 2008 5:43 PM

The Shinnecock Indian Nation’s Board of Trustees and other tribal officials met with Suffolk County legislators last week to discuss the future of Indian gaming, specifically the possibility of building a large casino and family entertainment complex on Long Island.

During a visit to the Shinnecock Reservation on Thursday, June 26, county officials—including Legislator Ed Romaine, Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay, and Economic Development and Energy Committee Chairman Wayne Horsley—appeared enthusiastic about the revenue a gaming facility could bring the county. They also expressed an interest in working with the tribe to find a feasible location for a casino, possibly in Yaphank or Bellport.

Thursday’s meeting was the second that the two parties have held in less than two months.

“I, for one, have been an advocate for gaming,” Mr. Lindsay said, noting that he believes New York State has taken an antiquated and moralistic view of gambling—and lost a great deal of revenue by banning it.

“It’s a very interesting concept—the whole thing,” Mr. Lindsay said. “It should really be looked at seriously, especially in terms of economic development.”

The legislator added that, if done right, the casino could be a financial boon to the entire county.

The state cannot interfere with Indian gaming operations, and if the Shinnecocks are federally recognized as a tribe by the Department of the Interior, a battle that is currently playing out in court, the Nation will gain the right to construct and operate its own casino—but only on Indian land. In the past, the tribe has discussed the idea of building a gaming facility on the South Fork, in particular the tribe-owned Westwoods property, 76 wooded acres along Newtown Road in Hampton Bays, but a court ruling eliminated that possibility last year. Tribe members have said they would be willing to consider alternate sites if officials were willing to discuss the notion.

Although U.S. District Court Judge Thomas C. Platt determined that the Shinnecocks were eligible for federal recognition in 2005, that process has been stalled, even though volumes of evidence exist to prove the tribe’s heritage, according to Shinnecock Trustee Lance Gumbs. The tribe returned to court in April in another bid for recognition, in which tribe leaders successfully argued that the U.S. Department of the Interior was delaying the process. As a result, a judge ruled that the process will be expedited.

“This is going to happen sooner or later,” Mr. Gumbs said, referring to the tribe’s quest for federal recognition—the last major hurdle to building a casino. “Our notion is to put everything in place at the same time.”

For the legislators and tribal leaders, location is the key to making the casino work, and finding a spot in Suffolk County will be no easy task.

Under former Town Supervisor 
Patrick Heaney, Southampton Town fought against any kind of facility being built in the town, going so far as to question the nation’s heritage as a way of challenging its right to federal 
recognition. But the new Town Board, which features two new members, 
plus new Supervisor Linda Kabot, chose not to appeal Judge Platt’s 2005 ruling and let the opportunity to do so expire in April. Since then, the town has reached out several times to tribal leaders, seeking dialogue on a variety of issues.

At the meeting with the county on Thursday, Mr. Gumbs said that other locations under consideration by the tribe include county-owned land in Yaphank and a defunct outlet mall in Bellport along Sunrise Highway. He noted that any site must be close enough to allow an easy commute for tribe members who work there.

Mr. Gumbs also said that such a gaming facility could “put Suffolk County on the map” as a destination for tourists and families. As well as gaming, Mr. Gumbs envisions shops, restaurants, a hotel and a venue for entertainment and sports events.

“There’s no lack of opportunity if we’re willing to push the ball up the hill,” Shinnecock attorney George C. Stankevich said, noting earlier that the towns, county and state could all get a cut of the revenue stream. Mr. Gumbs said ancillary benefits include new jobs, money for police and fire departments, schools and overall economic growth in the region.

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