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Jun 25, 2012 5:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Federal Court Tosses Injunction Preventing Shinnecocks From Building Hampton Bays Casino

Jun 27, 2012 11:18 AM

A federal appeals court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling that had prevented the Shinnecock Indian Nation from using the tribe-owned Hampton Bays property known as Westwoods for a casino development, as the tribe proposed in 2003.

The ruling, however, did not overturn the 2008 ruling by Judge Joseph Bianco, which rejected the tribe’s argument that the 79-acre Westwoods property must be considered sovereign tribal lands, making it eligible for a casino development under federal regulations. The tribe’s attorneys appealed Judge Bianco’s ruling but stated in their arguments that the tribe has no intention of pursuing a gaming facility at Westwoods anymore.

The ruling instead said that the case should never have been argued in a federal court in the first place, because the issues that sparked the complaint by Southampton Town and New York State—zoning regulations, environmental protection and the state’s ban on gambling—were not subjects of federal jurisdiction. The court ruled that the case, which was the subject of a nearly five-year legal battle between the tribe, state and town, should have been heard in state court rather than federal court. The case will be remanded back to a state court, though it is unclear whether either side will pick up the fight again.

Nonetheless, the tribe immediately seized on the ruling—which, at least in theory, brings the Westwoods property back into play—as an opportunity to renew pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss the tribe’s desire to build a casino elsewhere on Long Island or in the outskirts of New York City. The governor has been dismissive of the tribe’s plans and its need to negotiate a compact with the state before it could open a casino, saying that the Shinnecocks must wait until a state constitutional amendment expanding legalized gambling in the state has been approved, and then, potentially, submit their casino plans for consideration alongside private entities.

“Now that the Nation has been federally recognized as an Indian tribe and has been freed from the effects of that judgment and injunction, we again ask Governor Cuomo to sit down with the Nation to discuss how the Nation and the state can move forward together,” a statement released by the tribe on Monday afternoon reads.

Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs said later that getting the injunction lifted was perhaps most important as a psychological win for the tribe, even if the practical impacts of the victory are lessened by the tribe’s new direction regarding gaming, which targets properties elsewhere in Suffolk County and farther west. The ruling said that the case should be re-argued—if the two sides see fit—in a state court, where it started out almost a decade ago.

“It takes the injunction off the land, and that was one of the important things to the tribe,” said Mr. Gumbs, who was the voice and face of the tribe when the battle over Westwoods started with the rumbling of bulldozers on Newtown Road. “It’s not about the casino, it’s about having the freedom to do things over there we’ve always done. His ruling was dead wrong.”

On a sweltering Saturday morning in June 2003—six months after the tribe and developer Ivy K. Ong began an attempted end run around federal regulations leading to construction of a casino at Westwoods, on the basis of the tribe’s centuries of dealings with New York State—bulldozers started clearing trees at Westwoods, a broad swath of woods bisected by Sunrise Highway and bounded by residential neighborhoods and towering sand bluffs overlooking Peconic Bay.

By the time Judge Bianco ruled that Westwoods was off the table as a possible casino site five years later, tribal leaders had admitted that they had never wanted to build at their cherished retreat, used for camping, picnics and ceremonies by tribe members. But, at the time, the tribe and Mr. Ong had sketches in hand of a 60,000-square-foot casino on the land, and designs for a Sunrise Highway exit leading to the property. With large men in shirts emblazoned with “Tribal Security” blocking the entrance to Westwoods, the bulldozers ultimately cleared almost 12 acres of woods before attorneys for the town and state got a temporary restraining order and State Police halted the bulldozers.

The lawsuit that followed pitted the town and state against the tribe in a convoluted morass of legal wrangling that had lawyers crawling through the cramped storage rooms of Southampton Town Hall in search of centuries-old documents from the earliest days of the pre-Colonial settlement.

The town and state’s stance was that the tribe had no right to build a casino at Westwoods, because the property was owned by the tribe but was not recognized sovereign tribal land, like the tribe’s 800-acre Shinnecock Neck reservation, and was therefore subject to restrictions of zoning and environmental regulation like any property would be.

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"Many Rivers To Cross."
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jun 25, 12 6:56 PM
3 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By rrc1049 (63), Bridgehampton on Jun 25, 12 9:33 PM
2 members liked this comment
Didn't "Like" the comment... hit the wrong button~

There are "short sided idiots," and there are uninformed big mouths who don't have a clue what they're taking about.

Take a ride to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun and ask those neighbors about the "cash cows" in their backyards!" Crime, crime and more crime!

"TOSH" as you like to refer to it, can't handle its present infrastructure as it is, and you want to quadruple the burden on it?
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jun 25, 12 10:05 PM
2 members liked this comment
This is a sad day! We wish them well, however, be careful what you
wish for! We cannot maintain the increased traffic during the summer and
with this - it appears all year round traffic will be the norm! We did not move
to the East End for a Casino. Hopefully, it will be relocated to another
By East Ender (64), Southampton on Jun 25, 12 9:47 PM
"We did not move to the East End for a Casino" NIMBY
Who asked you to move here, most certainly not the Shinnecocks!
As some one who can trace their family tree back to the original settlers who landed on Conscience Point in 1640, I find your statement deplorable at best. People such as yourself who've moved here for the natural beauty of the east end ironically have destroyed that which you had sought, with your presence and attitude, this is what's truly sad.

Tell me how traffic ...more
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jun 25, 12 11:26 PM
ahh,that is what many before you said.As more and more people moved from the city and surrounding areas to he peace and tranquility of the Hamptons ,you brought the traffic with YOU. You built MACMANSIONS on tiny parcels ,drove up property taxes and drove life long Hamptonites from their homes. Lets not talk about casinos.
By poca (3), southampton on Jul 3, 12 1:57 PM
The state already has gaming at Aqueduct and has plans for many other casinos in the state.As far as gambling hurting no one that is completely untrue it is a vice like any other. This society justifys everything that is bad by saying it will produce revenue. They do it with cigarette tax, alcohol tax, and taxing casinos. Unfortunately these vices cost the taxpayer 10 fold the taxes they collect. We need to get people back to hard work instead of legalizing bad behavior for profit.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 25, 12 9:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
Don't see the powers that be condoning heroin and base use... do you? Is it legal?

By Allergic2Stupidity (77), Riverhead on Jul 3, 12 4:19 PM
Construction at Westwoods can not start soon enough. I'm tired of traveling to CT.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jun 25, 12 11:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
YES!!!! Love it!! Congratulations Shinnecock Indian Nation!!!!
This is a great day and a day of reckoning for SH Town. The Town should have worked with the Shinnecocks instead of against them!
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jun 25, 12 11:06 PM
The increased revenue for the town may offset the police lawsuits
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jun 25, 12 11:27 PM
What increased revenue?
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 6, 12 7:13 PM
Having a casinos will bring economic riches to the impoverished Shinnecock Indians and their handlers. People who "moved" near or next to the reservation should not complain as they should have done their homework regarding sovereignty and Native American rights. The people of the east end have trampled about the Shinnecock lands far too long and to deny them an opportunity to improve their lot is a crime. Especially since many lawyers, bankers, developers and hedge fund creeps are the ones crying ...more
By henrythepoet (4), brookhaven on Jun 26, 12 7:39 AM
Actually the people who moved near the reservation don't have a dog in this fight. The property in question is the "Westwoods" tract in Hampton Bays. This, of course, was once Shinnecock property then was sold by the tribe before they reclaimed it. It is not connected to the reservation and is about one tenth the size of the reservation. In all reality the property is way too small for a casino and its requisite parking and the tribe's financiers would not be interested in pursuing such a development.

That ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jun 26, 12 7:57 PM
3 members liked this comment
I like blackjack.
By Samuel Walsh (17), Southampton on Jun 26, 12 8:06 AM
I don't think anyone has read the article or understands the ruling. The judge said this was not a federal matter which mean it will go to a state court and a casino still requires an agreement with the state and federal govt. There is no way there will be a casino anytime soon. I don't understand why the Shinnecocks would even want a casino. Doesn't a casino destroy the land with parking and the waste from the building. This country is a money grab no one cares about morals or ethics. Money money ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 26, 12 9:03 PM
3 members liked this comment
Now legalized prostitution is an idea I could get behind! LOL Prostitution is a mulit-billion $ industry which is unregulated and untaxed. It isn't going anywhere and many marriages are just a modified morally accepted version of it! Why not use it to help fund our global corporate empire?
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jun 26, 12 9:17 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Samuel Walsh (17), Southampton on Jun 27, 12 5:25 AM
I understand Mr Walsh that you're only 16 so your comment is made on ignorance. Tobacco Row it clearly is not. The Shinnecocks have done a very good job with not turning it into such a place even when stricken by poverty. We as a community must admit the truth; We settled the Hamptons, took their land and opportunity to expand and made it a playground for the rich. Why should they now even care about our opinion as neighbors. Did we care how they felt when we built multimillion dollar eye sores ...more
By My side (2), 11968 on Jun 27, 12 8:55 AM
1 member liked this comment
Plus Mr Walsh, Who are you to say they aren't Real Native Americans. Are you a expert on Visual DNA or something (Realizing now that the 16 meant comments not age)? What makes someone a real Native American? I know plenty of Native People from Shinnecock and the Southwest. They all share the same beauty, pride, sense of family and traditon, culture and humbleness. Don't judge something you don't choose to get to know. You only know what the media puts out which tends to be on the negative side; ...more
By My side (2), 11968 on Jun 27, 12 9:06 AM
2 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By TianaBob (256), S.Jamesport on Jun 27, 12 9:53 AM
Good for the Shinnecock Nation!! This is just the next step to having a casino for the Tribe. Good luck and God bless you in this endeavor.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jun 27, 12 5:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
They do not need this as a tribe. There are many opportunities available today to better one's situation. Person by person on the tribe could do so and preserve the land - one of the things that natives lived off of so long ago..... Respect history but don't rape the future with this type of thing on the east end.
By suzer67 (51), nanuet on Jul 1, 12 5:21 PM
1 member liked this comment
so many opportunities????? then why is the unemployment rate so high. I know people that have been seeking employment for 2-3 years without any luck.
By poca (3), southampton on Jul 3, 12 1:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
I look forward to Cuomo closing this loophole and legalize casino gambling.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Jun 28, 12 6:43 AM
Better plan....all Shinnecocks build new homes on the Westwood property and turn the Reservation into the casino property. Easy access to the highway. Think ANYONE would support that? Not likely...just dump it in Hampton Bays and its acceptable.
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Jun 28, 12 8:33 AM
1 member liked this comment
There's no need for a casino in Southampton. It does not matter that other tribes on the east coast have one. There are so many casinos on the east coast, tribal or not, there's just no economical, environmental or social benefit to have one in Southampton. Preserve and protect the beautiful land instead. The tribe's individuals can find many other ways to earn a good living. Provide this opportunity and crime and many other negative things will happen to the entire community, which includes ...more
By suzer67 (51), nanuet on Jul 1, 12 5:18 PM
You don't get to decide if there is a need or not. You don't get to decide that something can or can not be built only if a need is present. You don't get to decide what benefits can be had by a development. I'll bet that there are many people in the area that would look forward to the economic benefit of a casino job unless you're ready to supply some other kind of jobs to those seeking work.

The beautiful land you refer to is a scrub area that was clear cut years ago, but it is way ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jul 2, 12 11:56 PM
Well you don't get to decide nor do the people who you think would be looking for jobs there. Right?

Some people gamble and think it would be great. Others would never step foot in the place. Both have a voice.
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 6, 12 7:18 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By johnnyhampton (82), Southampton on Jul 4, 12 10:10 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By maxwell (169), speonk on Jul 5, 12 2:46 PM
Before there is any thought of licensing the Shinnecocks to build casinos ANYWHERE, the status of the bay bottom offshore of Indian land has to be settled. The Shinnecocks have been shooting at baymen therein, claiming to "own" the waters (either to 1000 feet or 1000 YARDS offshore [depending on which Indian you talk to.]) This atrocious anti-social behavior has to cease, and the Shinnecocks have a accede to the decision of the larger community, before we consider permitting them to expand their ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 6, 12 8:36 PM
I'm in no way defending the Shinnecocks - but talk about a non-sequitur. That would really hold up well in the court system... One thing has nothing to do with the other.

Btw, who would you like to help stop the crimes these Indians are committing? Hope you're OK with the Police (4-letter word?) coming to the rescue, or is it OK because they're troopers and not Townies?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 6, 12 8:57 PM
Operating casinos is a privilege that the state grants at its discretion. It is perfectly appropriate to withhold any such concessions until the Shinnecocks have shown that they are capable of playing nice with their neighbors (before we make MORE of our citizens their neighbors.) It is also the most likely incentive to convince them to do so.

Of course the police should compel the Shinnecocks to obey the law. That's their raison d'etre. The fact that I am not a fan of stupendously ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 6, 12 10:24 PM
All you NIMBY idiots amke me sick with your tree hugging sensibilities! You are the ones who have ruined the hamptons. Decades ago, the hamptons were plush with farms. You didn't care when you built your million dollar homes on developments carved from these farmlands. Traffic has always been an issue. As a child, I can remember standing on an overpass over north highway waving goodbye to all you summer residents on labor day. We were glad to finally have our beautiful community back again. ...more
By Walt (292), Southampton on Jul 10, 12 11:05 AM