Sources see possible casino site in Yaphank

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. (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)

A large, uncleared parcel of land just east of a new railroad depot in Brookhaven Town has become the latest candidate site for a Shinnecock Indian Nation casino, according to people familiar with the plan.

The sources emphasized that the plan involving a 100-acre parcel in Yaphank is preliminary.

People briefed on the plan said it could involve a two-stage development. First, the tribe could open a casino relatively quickly at a former Estée Lauder warehouse west of the proposed location. Then a larger-scale development could begin on the rail property.

The parcel is partly owned by a partnership of companies, including U.S. Rail, which operates the depot known as Brookhaven Rail Terminal.

The depot, located on 28 acres on Sills Road south of Long Island Expressway exit 66 and adjacent to the possible casino site, operates primarily as a shipping and receiving station for about 500,000 tons of construction material and commodities annually. A group, including U.S. Rail of New York, Landbridge Intermodal, D.A. Collins Cos., Pratt Bros. Construction and Watral Bros., funded the $40 million project. The depot had the backing of Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko and even Johan McConnell, the president of the South Yaphank Civic Association. New York Rail/U.S. Rail owns and operates the depot.

On Saturday, McConnell said she would oppose the use of the adjacent land parcel for a casino as "not appropriate."

The targeted property abuts farmland to the east owned by Suffolk County but not residential parcels, making it more attractive than Brookhaven Airport, which is surrounded by homes. The airport has been considered as a casino site.

The tribe, with backing from state and Nassau County Republican lawmakers, spent much of last year trying to build support for a casino at Belmont Park racetrack. But lawmakers abandoned the Belmont plan after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo threw his support behind Genting, a Malaysia-based casino developer that wants to build a full casino at its Aqueduct Racino.

Now, sources say, the Shinnecocks and their financial backers at Gateway Casino Resorts are focusing on Suffolk County -- an imperative given a 25-mile exclusion zone Genting is expecting to be granted for any full-scale casino at Aqueduct.

Numerous Suffolk sites have been considered, including county and private land near Pilgrim State Psychiatric Hospital in Brentwood, but the Yaphank parcel has several advantages. It is contiguous to the rail spur, providing a transportation hub for potential casino-goers, and also is on the service road of the Long Island Expressway.

A spokeswoman for New York Rail declined to comment. The Shinnecock Indian Nation wouldn't discuss locations for a casino until they are finalized.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, could not be reached for comment.

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