Shinnecock eyes Yaphank site for casino

A blackjack dealer works on the Escapade, a A blackjack dealer works on the Escapade, a luxury gambling vessel operated by Opus Casino Cruise Lines in Freeport. Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin, 2010

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The Shinnecock Indian Nation is displaying a new level of urgency in its efforts to secure casino locations in Nassau and Suffolk, including a new site a stone's throw from the Long Island Expressway in Yaphank.

The tribe is concurrently working to secure a site at Belmont Park race track in Elmont, with the hopes of negotiating a compact with the state for two or even three sites downstate, officials have said.

One observer said the heightened efforts are the result of an awareness that there's competition coming to the region in the form of a large video-slots parlor at Aqueduct race track in Jamaica, Queens, this fall.

"The nation is getting down to a decision time," said Suffolk Legis. Wayne R. Horsley (D-Babylon), who as head of the Legislature's gaming task force was party to talks last week that put a former Estee Lauder warehouse in Yaphank on the active site list. "I think they realize they have got to make a decision or competition is going to press against them."

The Yaphank site, which once housed Whitman Packaging, a division of Estee Lauder, was shuttered in 2009, then leased last year under a long-term agreement to Global Tissue Group. It is not far from another large tract, the Liere Farm.

Shinnecock Nation spokeswoman Beverly Jensen confirmed tribal officials have "looked at the site" but have yet to make a decision about it.

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The warehouse is one of dozens of parcels the tribe has eyed in Suffolk.

A source close to the tribe said the Yaphank warehouse site alone probably would not be enough to accommodate the casino, hotel and other economic development the tribe plans for Suffolk. It would "have to be combined with other sites" to be tenable, the source said.

"It has obvious appeal," particularly given its proximity to the expressway and the Yaphank rail station, the source said. Owner Rechler Equity Partners of Melville has already applied for a variance to put a driveway from the service road to the facility.

That traffic-diverting possibility was little solace for Linda Tatem, who lives across the street from the warehouse. The largely undeveloped land around her house is home to owls, fox, deer and raccoons, she said.

"It's just so quiet here," she said. "A casino? No."

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