Gurney's Inn
October 17, 2007

New Casino Proposed by Shinnecock Nation

Long-escalating tensions in Southampton Town regarding a casino proposed by the Shinnecock Indian Nation could soon be a thing of the past.

The Shinnecock, in partnership with Gateway Casino Resorts, has proposed a plan to build a full-scale casino with 490,000 square feet of gaming space at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.

Shinnecock Trustees believe the proposed casino could mean a boon for the state and bring economic relief to residents of the Shinnecock Reservation.

The proposal for the casino came after the state's request for proposals for a video lottery terminal (VLT) facility, which were due Monday.

According to Shinnecock Tribal Trustees, the casino would be owned by the Shinnecock Indian Nation and settle ongoing federal lawsuits the Nation has filed in an effort to become a federally-recognized New York tribe.

The settlement, they say, could also include the Shinnecocks' land claim in Southampton Town.

Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs said the gaming facility, which is projected to bring in $2.1 billion annually in revenue, as well as provide at least $400 million more in tax revenue to the state in its first year alone, would do more to boost the economy than VLTs, which bring in only $350 million a year.

"Video lottery terminals are not a destination point," said Gumbs. "We would be creating a destination, a place where people would want to come from other interstate [areas] and out of state. We would stop watching all the dollars exiting the state for all the other casinos and have one in the greatest state in the world."

Gumbs said New York State is being left behind as other states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, embrace gaming. A new deal has just been brokered in Philadelphia, he said, that would place a casino operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation right by the waterfront. "We're looking at New York being surrounded and a mass exodus of money leaving the state," he noted.

Gumbs said although representatives for New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer have said that no proposal from the Shinnecock Indian Nation can be entertained until the tribe receives federal tribal recognition, he believes the process of granting federal recognition "could possibly be a really quick thing. Legislatively, it could be done in a very short period of time."

In 2005, Judge Thomas C. Platt issued a ruling that the Shinnecocks are a tribe under federal law, but it has not yet been recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In 1994, the federal government passed a statute, The Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act, directing the department of interior to create and maintain on a timely basis a list of all federally recognized tribes.

Federal statute dictates that the Department of Interior must put three types of tribes on the list, including those seeking federal acknowledgment, which said Gumbs, the Shinnecocks have been in the process of doing for 30 years.

Gumbs said in recent weeks new documentation has emerged proving that from 1914-1915, the Shinnecocks were listed and given federal recognition among other Indian tribes in New York State. Moving forward, he said, "We were just somehow left off the list."

Gumbs added that currently, the tribe is in the "unique position" to acquire the land necessary for the new casino under new tribe status as part of the federal recognition process.

"It's a doable situation if people want to be creative and sit down and discuss it and keep an open mind. We're within the parameters of getting this done in a timely and efficient way and benefiting the State of New York by creating more income than an average VLT facility. We think it's a win-win situation."

He added, "This is about economic development for the tribe. It's a solution we feel could be viable for all parties involved, including the Town of Southampton, New York State and the Shinnecock Nation."

The trustees are concerned that the state would allow an out-of-state tribe to come into New York, "especially when we are ready, willing and able to work as partners with the state," according to a statement issued by the tribe.

Implementation of the proposal would not require an amendment of the state constitution, said the trustees. They believe the Aqueduct facility would be superior to a VLT parlor because of greater revenues – the proposal also includes a host fee for New York City – providing approximately 22,000 more jobs than a VLT facility, and an investment of $1.5 billion at no cost to the state or horse racing franchise owner.

Gateway Casino Resorts is led by Detroit-based gaming industry veterans Marian Ilitch and Michael Malik.

"Our vision goes far beyond adding a few slot machines at Aqueduct. Instead we propose to construct an exciting new entertainment venue in Queens to complement and enhance the current horse racing experience," said Mike Malik, President of Gateway Casino Resorts in a statement. Malik said after garnering local community input, the proposed development could eventually include hotels, restaurants, shopping and other amenities.

Michael Cohen of Nixon Peabody LLC, outside counsel for the Town of Southampton on matters relating to the Shinnecocks, did not return calls by press time.

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