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Is casino plan with Wang, Shinnecocks possible?

General Manager Garth Snow and team owner Charles

General Manager Garth Snow and team owner Charles Wang watch the New York Islanders rookie camp at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale. (July 7, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

With Hempstead Town's scaled-back plan for the Nassau hub dismissed by Charles Wang's Lighthouse group as "unviable," the focus shifts to a joint Wang-Shinnecock Indian casino project.

A plan involving the Shinnecocks would not need Hempstead Town zoning approvals.

Several people with knowledge of the discussions said Monday that talks among Wang's group, the Shinnecock Nation and the tribe's backers at Gateway Casino Resorts, and Nassau County, have intensified from early stages in January. One said "stepped-up" talks were continuing "at the highest levels."

The Shinnecocks are expected to get final technical approval for their federal recognition application this week, a long-awaited step that would allow the Southampton tribe to open a casino on tribal land.

The tribe began talking to Nassau County in January about the prospect of opening a casino on or near the Nassau Coliseum property.

County Executive Edward Mangano surprised many in April when he confirmed talks with the tribe and called a casino at the site a "very viable alternative." He said he saw the casino as a way to create jobs and boost revenue in a county that faces a budget deficit of more than $200 million next year.

While numerous hurdles must be cleared before a casino-entertainment complex could be incorporated into the Nassau Coliseum plan, people close to the camps said Monday that Hempstead's announcement of a plan that was dramatically scaled back from Wang's original Lighthouse proposal gave impetus to an Indian casino. Most declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Because any Shinnecock project off the tribe's reservation would require special status as federal "land-in-trust," it wouldn't be subject to local zoning codes like Hempstead's.

"It may be that this puts the parties into a position where not only the highest and best use but the only use for the land is as a casino and entertainment complex," said the source.

A spokeswoman for the tribe Monday confirmed talks about numerous sites for a casino, including a possible Nassau Coliseum project, were ongoing. But the tribe, said spokeswoman Beverly Jensen, is still open to discussions about new sites. "We are also waiting for federal recognition," Jensen said. "We do not have a [finalized] site for a casino."

Wang didn't return calls seeking comment.

But even if a Shinnecock casino becomes an end-around to avoid local zoning, other obstacles remain.

"We're not only opposed to a casino [near] Hofstra University, but we have every intention of fighting it," said Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz. " . . . If anybody thinks this is going to be less painful than negotiating between Wang and Hempstead, they're mistaken."

Newsday Staff Reporter Randi F. Marshall contributed to this story.

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