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Some politicians support a Shinnecock casino at Belmont

Key Long Island political leaders expressed support Thursday for the idea of locating a possible Shinnecock casino at Belmont Park. Should the tribe receive approval to open a gaming facility, Belmont is "the only place it would possibly make sense," said Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi. A spokesman for State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) added that the Senate minority leader "would be open" to an Indian-run casino there. Skelos, who represents neighborhoods south of Belmont Park, and other state lawmakers from Nassau have pushed for the installation of slotlike gambling machines at the Park to compete with ones slated to open at nearby Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. The Department of the Interior has until Dec. 15 to decide on the Shinnecocks' request for federal recognition, which would give them the right to open a gaming facility. If a casino is located off the tribe's Southampton reservation, it would require state and federal approval. Suozzi said his support for a Belmont casino is predicated on local support for the facility, whether casino revenue benefits local school districts and governments, and whether massive improvements are made to rail and street infrastructure to and from the park. "These are all big conditions," he said. "But if it is going to be in the region, I'd rather see it at Belmont." Skelos' spokesman, Scott Reif, also qualified his support: "We still need more information about their experience in operating a gaming facility." Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), whose district includes Belmont Park, said, "A Shinnecock-run operation, at least at this preliminary stage, is certainly an intriguing and exciting possibility." East End lawmakers said they back the Shinnecocks' quest for federal recognition, but don't want to see such a facility on the East End. "I think it would be hard to find a workable location in the five East End towns," said Assemb. Fred Thiele (R-Sag Harbor). "Outside of Belmont, I'm hard-pressed to think of a place that would meet the requirements a facility like that would need and also get community acceptance." Suffolk Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said that while he supports federal recognition for the Shinnecocks, he opposes casino gambling. "I'd prefer them not to seek the route of casino gambling, but if they do, I'd prefer to not see it on the South Fork," Schneiderman said. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said the decision on where to place a casino ought to be left to local communities. "I think it's important for the community to decide, because it's going to affect their life," she said. "If you want to have that kind of economic growth, then you decide you do." Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is awaiting the findings of the Suffolk Legislature's gaming task force before taking a position. Suffolk Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), chairman of the economic development committee that oversees the county's gaming task force, said any Shinnecock casino should be located in Suffolk. "The Shinnecocks are a Suffolk nation," he said.

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