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Jul 1, 2009 12:23 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shinnecocks still face obstacles in casino bid

Jul 1, 2009 12:23 PM

The settlement of a key portion of a legal battle between the Shinnecock Indian Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs fed widespread speculation that the Shinnecocks and their Detroit-based financial backers are now on a fast track to opening a gaming facility in New York City or on Long Island.

But even though a court-ordered ruling on the tribe’s federal recognition application—the key step to gaming rights—is due by December, and the tribe could get the federal go-ahead by mid-2010, many in the New York gaming industry say the hurdles the Shinnecocks face are numerous, and significant.

At a gaming industry conference in Saratoga Springs last week, a host of industry veterans and members of other Native American tribes from around the state said—often with wry smiles—that they’re not holding their breath for a Shinnecock casino to open. Nonetheless, the tribe and its prospects for a casino on Long Island, or in the shadow of New York City, were a popular topic of conversation.

The tribe sent a 10-member contingent to the New York Gaming Summit, including Michael Malick, co-owner of the Detroit-based casino development company that has been funding the tribe’s legal battles over its gaming future since 2003. Also at the conference were the five salaried members of the tribe’s gaming authority, Tribal Trustee Fred Bess, former Trustee Lance Gumbs—who has been the most vocal member of the tribe in the casino effort—and at least two of the tribe’s attorneys.

In his keynote speech at the two-day conference, John D. Sabini, chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, focused on the Shinnecock casino bid, and the speculation the court settlement spawned. And in his remarks he seemed to warn the Shinnecocks that other tribal and private gaming prospects have seemed imminent in the past, and ended up languishing for decades.

“There are no sure things in gaming,” Mr. Sabini said in his speech. “This involves a lot of moving parts. It’s don’t think it’s a slam dunk that they even get federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of the Interior.”

Among the moving parts that will mostly likely be required for the Shinnecocks to secure a casino are the federal recognition process, which, though truncated by the court settlement, still poses some substantial pitfalls; identifying a suitable site for a casino and convincing local governments and residents that it suits their interests, financial and otherwise; negotiating with the state for a compact that would allow the tribe to develop something more than the smaller video gaming facilities tribes are entitled to once they are federally recognized; and, perhaps finally, acquiring a piece of land and putting it into federal trust so that it could be used for a casino.

Any or all of those steps could snag the tribe’s efforts.

“Some newspapers said [the court settlement] would mean they have the inside track for Belmont. There’s so much between here and there,” Mr. Sabini said, of a report that the tribe had expressed interest in a gaming facility adjacent to the Nassau County horse racing venue. “[State Assembly Speaker Sheldon] Silver has been clear—he doesn’t want gaming there. And it’s not a sure thing that a land swap deal will be successful.”

He nodded to the cautionary tales told by the leaders of three other Native American tribes—the Seneca, Oneida and St. Regis Mohawks—all of whom have had federal recognition for years, even decades, and are still fighting to get approval for casinos that they thought would be open for business years ago.

The Seneca do operate three relatively small casinos in the Niagara Falls area, but had plans for grander developments in the Catskills region that have been held up for years by a variety of obstacles. The St. Regis Mohawks have federal recognition and a compact with the state to open a casino in Sullivan County, just west of New York City, but were derailed during the effort to transfer land there into federal trust because federal officials felt the location was too far from the tribe’s native lands near the state’s northernmost Canadian border.

In 2005, the Sullivan County Legislature held a vote on whether the county could support five casinos. The legislature said yes, the economically depressed former resort community would happily welcome five tax generating casinos. To date, there are none.

“The Shinnecocks have a long way to go,” said John Tahsuda, a consultant to Native American tribes on a variety of dealings with federal and local authorities, particularly gaming. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it goes for them. In my experience, it is the local opposition that poses the biggest obstacle once a tribe has federal recognition, but there have been many ways in which problems have arisen.”

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And I quote "Aqueduct property is huge and ideal for casino development because of its proximity to the city. The Belmont property is much smaller" Lance Gumbs

Again, this is a reminder to anyone who thinks a casino in our backyard is a good idea.

"Aqueduct property is huge and ideal" We are not talking about some cute place where "grammy" plays bingo. The Shinnecocks have MAJOR plans and
Hamptonbays cannot accommodate the facilities.

This may be one of the BIGGEST ...more
By Soundview (89), Hampton bays on Jul 1, 09 4:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
I couldnt agree more("Soundview")...very well said! Its bad enough the usual progressions are happening in Hampton Bays and the other surrounding towns, but we really DONT need this casino! As a born and bred "hamptonite" it really saddens me to see how much property is gone, all for the padding of other pockets. We all love it out here, lets keep it the way it should be and not over populate it more than it needs to be. Along with this yes, does come financial opportunities, but to who exactly? ...more
By ET66 (12), SOUTHAMPTON on Jul 1, 09 8:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
I must agree not only will it destroy the land, but it will also destroy the culture its bad enough pow wow has been turned into a commercialized money maker. I just think its a bad idea altogether. There are already people within the tribe who lie, cheat and steal. Hint hint most of the so called leaders. I can only hope that it will not destroy the culture as well as cultural values all together, just for money gain. In all reality thats what it alls comes down to. UBIA you have every right to ...more
By Lahleas (12), Southampton on Jul 2, 09 12:08 PM
Although there are many many people within the Nation who are wonderful , there are indeed people within the tribe who have less than stellar motives- most of whom have risen to power (or wish to) and make the decisions...often at the expense of other Shinnecock. It is very difficult to know who to trust.
By eastendlocal (28), southampton on Jul 2, 09 4:06 PM
Soundview..where is there enough open space to build the LARGEST CASINO on the East Coast? Take a good look at the property on which Foxwoods, which is the largest casino in the world sits..and tell me where they are going to find all this land? As far as drunk drivers, sleezy people, etc from having friends in the CT area between the two casinos..NEVER have they complained about the problems you present. FYI..there is a strict limit on the amount of alcohol that is served to a patron when getting ...more
By BeachGal (72), Hampton Bays on Jul 4, 09 8:46 AM
That's exactly the point! If given the opportunity they will try to stuff a 5-10 million visitor a year casino into a 1-3 million visitor a year space.

Here's some math: 3 million visitors a year. That's a very conservative number.
That's over 55 THOUSAND visitors per weekend!
Foxwood has a very different layout to Hampton Bays. That's also the point! We have one way in, one way out! The casino would literally be in our backyard.

I've been to Foxwood... You can definitely ...more
By Soundview (89), Hampton bays on Jul 8, 09 10:28 AM