After guv's speech, tribe eyes next move

People play video roulette at the Resorts World People play video roulette at the Resorts World Casino-New York at Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, Queens. (Oct. 28, 2011) Photo Credit: Jason Andrew

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Leaders of the Shinnecock Indian Nation huddled Thursday to consider their next steps after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $4 billion plan to build a convention center at Aqueduct Racetrack, a move that threatens the tribe's planned casino at Belmont Park.

Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock trustees, said the tribe's gaming authority was meeting with tribal trustees on the Southampton reservation to consider the implications of Cuomo's State of the State message, in which he touted the convention center as well as his plan to amend the constitution to legalize non-Indian gaming in the state. Genting New York, a Malaysian company that operates a racino at Aqueduct, wants to have a full casino there.

"What everyone needs to realize is that we made a commitment to local, state and federal officials to move to Belmont" in lieu of a plan to open a casino on tribal land in the Hamptons, King said.

Meanwhile, support for the tribe's Elmont plan, first heralded as an "ideal location" last May by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, was wavering. "I'd pretty much say a casino is dead at Belmont," said Joe Rizza, a spokesman for state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who has been a vocal supporter of the tribe's plans.

One Suffolk County legislator Thursday urged the tribe to instead turn its attention to that county, and tribal leaders made plans to meet with newly installed Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone.

"We certainly want to see the tribe succeed, and we can use more economic development in Suffolk County," said Jon Schneider, deputy county executive for intergovernmental affairs.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), declined to discuss the Belmont casino, which the majority leader previously supported, but said Skelos "will continue to do everything he can to achieve the best possible plan for developing Belmont, so we can create good jobs and help the surrounding communities."

Mangano was noncommital Thursday. "The county executive has made arrangements with the governor to better understand his plan and its effect on Belmont," Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said.

The tribe also appeared to be facing a prospective opponent in Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, who had appeared onstage with Mangano when Belmont was announced.

In a publicly released letter to a Floral Park resident dated Dec. 29, Murray said she had "profound concerns" with Nassau's "stated intention" for a Belmont casino.

Her spokesman, Michael Deery, said, "If you are asking whether the supervisor supports [a casino] . . . that faces the doors of Floral Park High School, the answer would be no, she doesn't support that."He said any such plan "has to have the support of all the communities that surround the park, and that would include Floral Park."

But King isn't giving up on Belmont. "We hope the governor takes the same leadership position he has taken with the commercialized gaming community and sits down with the Shinnecock Nation to finally resolve the gaming vision we have," he said.

Suffolk Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), who heads a Suffolk task force on gaming, urged the tribe to move ahead quickly with a project in Suffolk. "Suffolk is the Shinnecocks' opportunity," he said.

The tribe recently voted to reject gaming contracts with its financial backer Gateway Casino Resorts. It must finalize those, or find a new developer, before it works out a state gaming compact with Cuomo."I'm confident we can work through those issues with Gateway," King said.

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