Tribe: Shinnecocks ponder more than 30 casino sites

Michannock Silva Arrow and Denise Silva-Dennis arrive with

Michannock Silva Arrow and Denise Silva-Dennis arrive with other members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation in front of the Federal Court house in Central Islip. (July 21, 2010) (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

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The Shinnecock Indian Nation has been offered upward of 30 sites for a potential casino on Long Island, and site selection will be finalized well before year's end, a tribal official said Thursday at a meeting where two new Calverton sites were offered.

Also Thursday, the tribe received notice of a schedule for an appeals board of the U.S. Department of the Interior to review two last-minute objections to its federal recognition - a process that could stretch at least until mid-November. Margo Ellis, a legal assistant for the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, said the notification filing was standard for cases before the board, and were not necessarily in response to a federal judge's demand for such a timetable in a Central Islip court on Wednesday.

At the Suffolk Legislature Thursday, Shinnecock senior trustee Lance Gumbs told a meeting of the county's Gaming Task Force the offers have come steadily over about the past year, and "it's been a challenge now to wade through all the proposals.

"There are quite a few good parcels that could potentially be a benefit," he said in an interview after the meeting, at which Riverhead Resorts offered its 755-acre entertainment complex at the Enterprise Park at Calverton as a possible casino site. The owners of another 131 acres of land in Calverton, currently the site of a sod farm just west of the water park Splish Splash, also pitched for a casino.

The Shinnecock Nation is reviewing sites even as it awaits an outcome of the two appeals filed to block its federal recognition status, which won a final determination by the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Acknowledgment last month. The appeals were the subject of a hearing in federal court in Central Islip Wednesday where Judge Joseph F. Bianco asked for an end date for the otherwise "open-ended" appeals process. The government has 10 days to respond to the demand. Kevin Mulry, a lawyer for the U.S. attorney's office, called it a "rare occurrence" for an outside body to dictate the appeals board's timetable.

Like the appeals process, the Riverhead Resorts plan to incorporate a tribal casino remains sketchy. But Resorts lawyer Mitch Pally said if all sides wanted to make a casino work in the 755-acre parcel, the resort developers would accommodate it. Riverhead Resorts has missed two payments of $1.98 million to the town to extend its contract for the parcel, which Pally said it hopes to purchase by year's end. The project includes eight separate resorts, including an indoor ski mountain.

Gumbs questioned Pally about a condition in the Riverhead Resorts agreement with Riverhead Town that forbids gaming on the site. Pally assured the tribe that it would not be an issue. "If I did not have that understanding from the Town of Riverhead, I would not be here," he said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter didn't return calls Thursday and his deputy declined to comment.

Gumbs also broached the idea that Riverhead Resorts would compete with the tribe's resort, which is slated to be a casino/entertainment complex. Pally suggested the eight-resort plan was flexible. "The goal is to have a successful project, not competing projects," he said, adding Riverhead Resorts would accommodate "whatever interchangeability has to occur."

Gumbs also said the tribe has looked at a fourth site in the Calverton area, which he described as in "greater Riverhead," but he declined to specify where it was.

Meanwhile, Suffolk County is said to be offering a different site in Yaphank than one previously offered to the tribe in the county's Legacy Village. A spokesman for County Executive Steve Levy had no comment on the change.

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