With two challenges to the Shinnecock Indian Nation's bid for federal recognition now removed, local politicians say they are moving forcefully to prevent the tribe from opening a casino on eastern Long Island.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said he has a verbal agreement from Shinnecock leaders not to place a casino on the North or South forks, and that they reiterated that commitment as recently as Wednesday in a meeting in Washington, D.C., with senior trustee Lance Gumbs and other tribal officials.
"We have an understanding that they will not pursue gaming on eastern Long Island," Bishop said. "It's not a formal, signed agreement or anything like that. But we have an understanding that gaming on eastern Long Island - there are too many obstacles and too many problems associated with it that they won't pursue it."
He added that "we reconfirmed that understanding" on Wednesday. "Now that they have recognition, I don't want it presumed that previous understandings are off the table. That's not the case."
An order released Friday from the Interior Board of Indian Appeals dismissed two challenges, saying the groups that had filed them lacked standing. The tribe said it expects a letter from the assistant secretary for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs confirming the final determination.
Suffolk County Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), who heads a task force on the casino issue, also said he does not think the tribe will seek to open a gambling complex on the East End - and he will push to ensure that does not happen. "We've had many conversations that have led me to believe that both the nation as well as local political leaders on the East End have more or less agreed it should not be" on either fork, he said.
Still, Horsley is advocating for a casino in Suffolk. He said that when talk of federal recognition intensified a year or so ago, the tribe was considering building a casino at Belmont Park or in the Catskills - if it went off the reservation in Southampton.
Now, tribal leaders say two of their top three choices are in Suffolk, he said. "Suffolk was a second thought, at best," Horsley said. "We have worked with them to the point where everyone who is concerned feels Suffolk would be the best location. I think we have come a long way."
Tribal Gaming Commission treasurer Barre Hamp noted that recognition means the tribe can open a facility with video lottery terminals on its own land. The tribe has acknowledged its agreements not to build east of County Road 104 in exchange for help opening casinos elsewhere on the Island.
"We're not going to give up that right to do gaming on our land," Hamp said last week. "We will honor our agreement with . . . [political leaders], but we're not going to wait 30 years to build a facility."
Meanwhile, Bishop said his priority is helping the tribe get federal funds for education, housing, health care, senior programs and other areas. "For me, that's job No. 1," he said.