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Shinnecocks approve pact to build casino

A stock photo of a game of poker.

A stock photo of a game of poker. Credit: Istock

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation have cleared an important hurdle in their decade-old quest to build casinos on Long Island by overwhelmingly approving a pact with their financial partner, Gateway Casino Resorts.

The vote, 101-10, Thursday night means the tribe can move forward with a single voice and a deep-pockets developer to negotiate a contract with New York State over revenue-sharing and possible locations.

The vote came on the same day that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appeared at odds with the tribe's primary plan for a facility at Belmont Park.

Cuomo told the Newsday editorial board Thursday that a facility at Belmont didn't make sense given its proximity to a racino at nearby Aqueduct racetrack, whose owners, Malaysian conglomerate Genting Llc, want to build a $4 billion convention center there with full gaming.

A move to allow non-Indian gaming would require a change in the state constitution.

Shinnecock members had previously rejected a contract with Gateway, the Detroit-based firm with ties to Little Caesars Pizza, primarily because it included noninterference clauses that some felt compromised tribal sovereignty.

Randy King, chairman of the tribal trustees, said Friday that the tribe wants the same opportunity Genting received to sit down with Cuomo's staff to discuss prospects for Shinnecock casinos at Belmont and elsewhere.

"We need to be heard," he said. "We should not be shut out of helping our state with jobs and economic development after being here for hundreds and hundreds of years . . . It's unfair and unrealistic."

"We are the true New Yorkers," added trustee Fred Bess, noting the tribe has had government-to-government relations with the state since 1792. "We need to sit down face to face."

A Cuomo spokesman declined to comment.

Former trustee Lance Gumbs, who opposed the previous Gateway contract, said he now favors it.

He called the new pact a "much more favorable deal that we were all able to live with, which then we were able to present to the Nation in a united front. When the people of our tribe see that all the groups are on the same page in one accord, it's almost a guarantee that issues get passed overwhelmingly."

Gumbs and other tribal members say Cuomo's take on a Belmont-Aqueduct conflict is misguided. "New York City is the biggest market in the country and could support a number of facilities," he said. "Just look at Vegas and Atlantic City and how many casinos there are -- and they don't have a quarter of the people that New York has . . . I hope the governor will rethink his position from a true economic and job-creation standpoint."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), chairman of the county's gaming task force, held an hourlong meeting with tribal officials Wednesday over the possibility of opening a casino in Suffolk. "That's a conversation we're open to," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. "It's a Suffolk County tribe; I'd think they would want to be in Suffolk County."

With Rick Brand

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