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Jul 27, 2010 3:26 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

New sites considered for casino project

Jul 27, 2010 3:26 PM

It seems like everyone is lining up for a piece of the casino pie.

Last week, two more sites in Calverton were thrown into the growing mix of nearly 30 possible locations for an anticipated Shinnecock Indian Nation casino, which is expected once the tribe’s federal recognition is finalized. Pitches for the properties were heard at a Suffolk County Gaming Task Force meeting on Thursday, July 22, attended by Shinnecock Indian Nation Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs.

The first site, presented by Joe Nehmad of Fillmore Realty in Brooklyn on behalf of the owners, Bagetele Associates and Eletag Associates, is 132 acres and spans 1,000 feet along Route 25 and almost 2,500 feet bordering Exit 72 of the Long Island Expressway, west of the Splish Splash water park.

“I believe this site to be ideal for a development of a hotel casino resort,” Mr. Nehmad told the task force, pointing to its proximity to the LIE. He also said that it was spacious enough for future expansion.

The second site, dubbed Riverhead Resorts and located at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL, was presented to the task force by Mitchell H. Pally of the Weber Law Group in Melville. It spans 778 acres and borders Route 25 to the north, and Riverhead Town officials are already in the process of considering approving a multi-resort complex there.

Mr. Pally told task force members that he was coming to them with the consent of the Riverhead Town Board. “If I did not have those understandings ... I wouldn’t be here,” he said. He also said the resort project is moving forward, and the developers are expected to complete their purchase of the property from the town by the end of the year.

But Mr. Gumbs pointed out there is a condition placed on the property that bars gaming use. He also expressed concern that the other resorts planned on the property might be competition for a Shinnecock casino. “We’re not just going to have a gaming floor and that’s going to be it,” Mr. Gumbs said.

But Mr. Pally countered that he believes the two projects combined could work together.

The search for a site for the casino may now take a back seat to recent challenges made to the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s federal recognition, according to Mr. Gumbs. A group calling itself the Connecticut Coalition for Gaming Jobs has filed an objection to the Shinnecocks’ application for recognition claiming that the tribe’s relationship with Gateway Casino Resorts, which has been funding the tribe’s legal battles in recent years in return for a cut of future casino profits, compromises the tribe’s independence.

At last week’s task force meeting, Suffolk County Legislator Wayne Horsley, chairman of the county’s Economic Development, Higher Education and Energy Committee, read a strongly worded letter he wrote to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar urging the agency to move forward with the nation’s recognition process and to dismiss the challenges. “I urge you to see this appeal for what it is—a biased, blatant and despicable money grab,” Mr. Horsley read.

So far, Mr. Gumbs said, 20 of the 30 or so sites that have been suggested to the tribe—most of which have not been publicly identified or discussed—would be feasible for a gaming facility. One of those sites is the 600-acre Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley. Another EPCAL site, covering 95 acres, was also floated at the last task force meeting in June.

For Mr. Gumbs, the sites that are attractive are ones that won’t incur additional infrastructure costs, such as constructing an off ramp-from the Long Island Expressway. According to some estimates, he said, that could cost $20 million.

Regardless, Mr. Gumbs stressed that one of the “key ingredients” the Shinnecocks will be looking for in a casino site will be cooperation—from both the neighboring residents and political leaders.

“We want to go where we’re wanted,” he said. “That’s really the bottom line.”

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