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Shinnecock nation vying for new downstate casino licenses

The electronic billboard erected by the Shinnecock Indian

The electronic billboard erected by the Shinnecock Indian Nation along Sunrise Highway in Southampton, is shown on Aug. 14, 2021.  Credit: John Roca

The Shinnecock Indian Nation is vying for one of three new downstate casino licenses, arguing in a recent filing that the federally recognized tribe has sovereign rights to open a gaming facility through a compact with the state.

The Southampton tribe was one of more than two dozen entities that responded to a recent request for information issued by the state last year. Among the responders are entities expected to bid for up to three highly coveted downstate licenses the state may issue in the next several years, including Bally’s Corp, Genting New York, Wynn Resorts Development and Las Vegas Sands. Responses on the state gaming website are almost completely redacted.

Shinnecock tribal chairman Bryan Polite and vice-chair Randy King said in a recent interview with Newsday that the tribe’s status as a federally recognized nation affords it a sovereign right to negotiate a compact with the state for a casino at a location in what could be the country’s largest gaming market.

Polite stressed that the nation is moving forward with a separate class-2 bingo parlor/video lottery terminal gaming facility on its reservation, even while remaining open to negotiations with the state to move that facility to an approved location off tribal territory. Construction has not yet started.

Some neighbors and public officials worry that the already congested Montauk Highway at that location, also home to tribal smoke and convenience shops, could become even more congested. The project remains in the planning stages and awaits an environmental review, Polite said.

King, who was tribal chairman when the Shinnecock gained federal recognition in 2010, has been involved in such discussions before, and said he worries the record of failed promises by the state could repeat itself.

The tribe in its filing is "basically stating the case that we have been shut out of a process that we have a federal right to be involved in," he said.

During past negotiations with the Shinnecock Nation, state and local governments had proposed locations from Nassau Coliseum to Belmont Park, even one near the Brookhaven Landfill and another at the West End of Jones Beach, before talks collapsed and the tribe was left with no options. Meanwhile, King noted, commercial licenses were granted for gaming at Aqueduct Racetrack and Jake’s 58 in Nesconset for non-Indian gaming interests.

The leaders declined to discuss specific casino proposals in their response to the state.

Meanwhile, Polite said the state Department of Transportation has declined to negotiate a needed off-ramp for a planned tribal gas and service plaza on tribal land on Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays as the the state continues litlgation over the tribe's billboards on the highway.

"They haven’t been responsive," said Polite. "It’s really a slap in the face."

The billboards have become an economic driver for the tribe. The nation recently filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the suit against the billboards.

State DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey said the agency "has received the preliminary documentation from the Shinnecock Indian Nation regarding the service area/gas station and we are reviewing it. We plan to contact them soon."

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