NYC: Shinnecock casino bid in Queens rejected

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Three leaders of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and its casino development firm submitted in 2011 a little-known formal bid to open a casino on 30 acres of land at Willets Point in Queens, but the offer was rejected, according to the New York City agency that declined it.

In a Jan. 9, 2011, letter submitted as part of the bid with Gateway Casino Resorts, tribal trustee chairman Randy King, and two former trustees, Fred Bess and Gerrod Smith, said they "fully and enthusiastically" backed the proposal, which was not presented to the full Shinnecock Nation, tribal sources said.

Gateway principals, including managing partner Michael Malik and his partners Marian Ilitch and Michael Ilitch, also proposed nongaming retail and hotel development as part of the Willets Point project under a separate company, Triple M, according to documents filed with the city. Triple M's proposal was rejected, the city said. A Gateway spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment.

The plan, which envisioned nearly 1 million square feet of gaming and related activities on tribal land held in federal trust for the project, never made it past the bidding stage.

"There is no casino being built at Willets Point, period," said Nick Kelly, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Agency. "A proposal in 2011 that included a gaming use was rejected." He noted that an agreement to transform the "long-blighted" area "expressly prohibits any gaming uses."

The revelation was quickly seized upon by tribal trustees who were removed from office last year amid allegations that they too had worked on economic development projects, some with casino ties.

Two longtime tribal leaders fighting the 2012 action by the tribe to remove them from office quickly seized on the revelations, noting that the full nation never voted on authorization to bid on the Willets Point project.

"They did the same exact thing they are accusing us of doing," said Lance Gumbs, who, along with Gordell Wright, has called the effort to remove them unlawful and unwarranted. "No one in the tribe knew about this" Willets Point project.

Gumbs said he was huddling with lawyers Tuesday to discuss the Willets Point revelations and determine what to do next.

Beverly Jensen, a tribal spokeswoman, didn't return calls seeking comment.

A source close to the tribe acknowledged the Willets Point proposal was never brought to the full Shinnecock nation because the formal bid was never accepted.

It is one of only two times the Shinnecocks made formal bid proposals on casino projects, the source said. Shinnecock leaders have previously bid on a casino at Aqueduct Raceway, but the bid wasn't accepted because it didn't meet the requirements. The full tribe was presented with a proposal to open a casino at Belmont Park, even though a formal bid was never made.

Over the past decade, the Shinnecock Nation's leaders have expressed interest in sites throughout Long Island and New York City, and even investigated a site in the Catskills.

Tribal trustee chairman Randy King and officials from Gateway met with members of the Wilpon group developing the site to come up with the gaming proposal, which was submitted as part of a larger plan to develop 60-plus acres there, the source said.

"It never got to a formal agreement," said the source, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak for the tribe. "We agreed to go forward and test the waters. They [New York City officials] quickly told us, 'Never mind.' "

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