HUNTINGTON—The Shinnecock Indian Nation has aspirations to one day operate as many as three casinos spread across Long Island, members of the tribe’s Gaming Authority told area real estate agents in Huntington on Wednesday morning.
Calling Long Island the “greatest gaming market in the world,” Gaming Authority member Phil Brown said the tribe would like to have gaming facilities in Nassau County, for its proximity to New York City, plus a large gaming and entertainment destination in western Suffolk County, and a “high-class Monte Carlo-type” facility on the East End “near our homelands in Southampton.”
Even as the Shinnecock Tribal Trustees were in Washington, D.C., speaking with members of Congress about legislation that would allow tribes to take new lands into trust for the purpose of gambling, the five Gaming Authority members made a pitch to the Long Island Real Estate Group in Huntington on Wednesday for the sort of places they would like to build their casinos.
“Indian gaming is the path to economic recovery,” Mr. Brown said, touting the millions of dollars in tax revenues and hundreds of jobs each facility would potentially bring to the counties and towns that host casino facilities. “Three gaming facilities on Long Island is a win-win for everybody.”
For the tribe to operate any casinos, it will still have to secure its official recognition from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA—a step that received another boost last week when the bureau took the Shinnecocks’ side in an appeal of challenges to their recognition application. The tribe was approved for federal recognition by the BIA in July, but that decision has been challenged by a group claiming to represent thousands of casino employees at Connecticut’s two Native American casinos, as well as by an obscure faction claiming to represent the scattered Montaukett tribe.
The 10,000-member Seneca Nation in upstate New York has a compact with the state that will allow it to operate up to three casinos. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Brown said that the Shinnecocks have been in discussions with Governor David Paterson’s office for more than a year and will be seeking an agreement similar to the Senecas’.
Gaming Authority members at Wednesday’s meeting did not offer any hints at which of the many properties that have been rumored to be on their short list of desired sites are in play, though the revelation that they are interested in multiple sites might have made the list longer. A number of locations across the island have been fingered as possibilities for a Shinnecock casino, including the Nassau Coliseum, Belmont Racetrack, Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley, and the former Grumman property in Calverton.
“We have not chosen a site yet,” Mr. Brown said. “I know you are all speculating as to where we’re going. I’m sure you guys are biting at the bit to hear us tell you where we’re going. We’re not going to give you that today.”
Mr. Brown said any property would have to be at least 35 acres to be worth consideration, but the tribe would “take as much as we can get”—which drew a laugh from the more than 200 Nassau real estate agents at the event.
Gaming Authority member Joan Crippen Williams said that the Westwoods property, a 79-acre parcel the tribe owns on Peconic Bay in Hampton Bays, is probably not on the table for a casino site. The tribe’s plans for a gaming facility at Westwoods in 2001 raised the curtain on the tribe’s gaming aspirations in general and sparked a years-long court battle with Southampton Town over the eligibility of the property for a casino. A judge ruled the property could not be used for gaming, but tribal leaders had maintained that the property was still in play.
Critical to the effort to develop any casinos will be the tribe’s ability to purchase land and put it into a federal trust so that it can be used for a gaming facility, even though the legislation that legalized Indian gaming requires that facilities be on “Indian lands.” Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tribes that were not yet federally recognized in 1935 could not put purchased land into federal trust. An effort is now underway by several tribes to spur federal legislation that would allow the practice.
The Gaming Authority members also did not rule out the possibility that the tribe could develop a casino on their 800-acre reservation in Southampton if efforts to secure land elsewhere are thwarted. But Ms. Williams acknowledged that the tribe has said it would not do that.
“We are people of our word,” she said. “There are enough places on Long Island that I think we should be able to find a place that is better than [the reservation].”