A task force studying potential locations for a Shinnecock casino has begun to narrow the field to four sites, including a parcel near Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, according to people familiar with the process.
The Suffolk Legislature task force's work is extremely preliminary and had not yet been formally presented to the Shinnecock tribe, which will make the ultimate decision, sources said.
Randy King, tribal chairman, said the Shinnecocks are primarily focused on finalizing federal recognition, which is expected in months, and in meeting with Gov. David A. Paterson to negotiate state terms for a casino. Numerous distractions in Albany have postponed the meetings.
"You've got to get to first base before second base," King said. "I want to get the recognition done." Meanwhile, day-to-day issues like snow removal have been higher on his to-do list.
Sources familiar with the sites say the task force will propose county-owned property in Yaphank in a Suffolk-planned development known as Leisure Village, and on Riverhead town-owned property at the EPCAL site in Calverton. The Gabreski site is on or near a 55-acre parcel leased to private developer, Rechler Equity Partners.
The fourth site is on unspecified town-owned land in Suffolk, a source said.
A spokeswoman for Rechler didn't return a phone call, and task force members declined to discuss sites. King said he has heard the Gabreski site mentioned by officials previously, and stressed that political and community feedback will be part of any final decision.
Suffolk Legis. Wayne Horsley, who sits on the task force as chairman of the county committee on economic development, higher education and energy, said Suffolk feels confident that whatever offer it presents to the tribe will benefit the county and the Shinnecocks. He said that's particularly true now that the state has awarded a contract to the Aqueduct Entertainment Group to open a racino of video lottery terminals at Aqueduct raceway, which is seven miles from a site many considered a prime location for the tribe at the Belmont race track.
"All bets are off - the odds are on Suffolk," said Horsley, who declined to discuss sites.
Observers stressed that the task force's plan represents one small step in a series of hurdles the tribe and its backers must complete before plans for a casino can move forward. First, the tribe's application for federal recognition, which was preliminarily approved in December, must be finalized. That is expected to happen in coming months.
Second, the tribe must work out a compact with New York State that includes settling on a location and revenue sharing.
In addition to getting federal recognition status, the tribe also must negotiate a land-in-trust agreement with the federal government if, as expected, a casino will be located off its Southampton reservation.