A dealer at the poker table. (Sept. 4, 2008)

A dealer at the poker table. (Sept. 4, 2008) Credit: Newsday File, 2008 / Viorel Florescu

Experts say the talked-about Shinnecock Nation casino at the Nassau Coliseum site would not face the same Hempstead Town zoning requirements as the stalled Lighthouse project, but the town says it won't cede its role without a fight.

"You can't apply local zoning to federal development projects," said Bennett Liebman, executive director of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School. If "it's federal land - it can't be covered by town zoning," he said.

A day after Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said he had been speaking with tribal members on the prospect of locating a casino at the Coliseum, Hempstead spokesman Mike Deery said the town was studying how its zoning oversight might be affected by the tribe's involvement in the project.

"The town is exploring what role it may have in zoning, and we believe it may depend on how a proposal might be structured for a casino at this location," he said. It is possible that only a portion of the project tied to a casino could have a status freeing it from local zoning restrictions.

Either way, Deery said, "We're going to be very vigilant."

Before the tribe would ever submit a proposal to the town zoning board, however, it would need to get a land-in-trust agreement from the federal government - essentially, the right to convert nontribal land for development off its Southampton reservation.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tribes must have been federally recognized before 1934 to obtain such waivers. The Shinnecocks hope their status will be finalized by July.

People close to central players in any possible Nassau-hub casino deal say Shinnecock involvement wasn't intended to overstep or exclude Hempstead. Tribal representatives said they don't want to open a casino where it isn't desired.

Casinos already operating in the state shed little light on the situation Hempstead faces in its zoning role.

A spokesman for the Oneida tribe said the opening of its Turning Stone casino was built on its reservation, and there were "no zoning ordinance issues when it opened because local community supported the casino." An official with the Seneca Nation, which operates casinos on tribal land, didn't return a phone call.

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