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Shinnecock tribe passes resolutions to explore gaming proposals

Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Nation tribal

Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Nation tribal trustees, in 2016. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Shinnecock Indian Nation last week passed gaming resolutions that could restart the tribe rolling toward a casino in the state, but an official stressed talks were in the "very, very" early stages.

The vote on two gaming resolutions passed with wide majorities of tribal members, authorizing Shinnecock leaders to draft a new gaming ordinance to submit to the National Indian Gaming Commission, and to explore gaming proposals with developers including the Seminole Tribe of Florida, officials said.

The Seminoles own the Hard Rock International and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino brand and have opened casinos across the country and internationally under that name. The tribal vote to open talks with a developer, which was approved 137 to 9, referenced an entity known as Tri-State Partners, operated by billionaire developer Jack Morris, who is partner with the Seminoles in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City.  

Last week’s resolutions were “a tribal vote to potentially explore a gaming initiative with the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” said Bryan Polite, chairman of the tribal trustees, stressing that the plans were in the “very, very early stages.”

A Hard Rock International spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment, and Morris could not be reached.

The resolution follows years of relative quiet on the gaming front by the Shinnecock Nation, which received federal recognition in 2010, giving it the right to pursue gaming, provided it reach an agreement, called a compact, with New York State.

The tribe's recognition, which was funded in part by Detroit developers Gateway Casino Resorts, led to the exploration of gaming sites across Long Island, including Belmont Park and Nassau Coliseum, but plans ultimately never materialized. The tribe's relationship with Gateway has since dissolved. 

Working with Hard Rock could mean the tribe and its potential partners would pursue a commercial gaming license rather than Indian gaming, which would require that it negotiate a compact with the state. 

New York State has a moratorium on new commercial casinos until 2023, part of a voter-approved plan in 2013 for up to seven facilities statewide. Four upstate facilities are operating and three licenses remain to be issued downstate. Published reports said casino developers Genting, MGM and Sands have all lobbied the state to lift the downstate moratorium before 2023, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has resisted, saying in March: "I am very skeptical about some casino deal put together by casino operators promising billions of dollars and everybody is happy."

His office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about a possible Shinnecock-Seminole pact. 

The state plan for gaming also included opening two video slot parlors in Suffolk and Nassau. Suffolk Off-Track Betting’s right led to the opening of Jake's 58 in Islandia, while Nassau transferred its right to open video slot machines to Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct.

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