Three Long Island casinos and nongambling ventures such as manufacturing, housing and office space - even a water park - are all in the Shinnecock Indian Nation's potential plans as the tribe awaits federal recognition.
In its most specific comments to date about what it will seek in state negotiations, the tribe's Gaming Commission Wednesday laid out for the Long Island Real Estate Group its plans for potential sites on Long Island that could house casinos near the Nassau-Queens border, mid-Suffolk and the East End near its reservation.
The commission said its casino plans, along with other non-gambling development, would help the local economy. "Help us help you get the real estate industry booming," commission secretary Philip Brown told the real estate group, saying the projects would add thousands of jobs and cut taxes.
Commission members said they would seek a compact with the state similar to one negotiated with the Seneca Indian Nation that allows for three casinos.
But while the state and the Shinnecocks have begun talks, officials have said they won't begin detailed negotiations with the tribe until the tribe's federal recognition is finalized. Tribe members said Wednesday they believed final recognition could come as soon as mid-October, if two challenges to the process are dismissed.
Legal hurdles loom
Beyond federal recognition, political and legal hurdles loom large. Gov. David A. Paterson has said he expects it could be years before a tribal casino could be cleared, and his spokesman Morgan Hook Wednesday said that position hasn't changed. In addition, the tribe must get approval for a federal land in trust pact either through and act of Congress or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and recent court rulings suggest it won't breeze through either channel.
And the sheer magnitude of siting and operating three large gaming and entertainment facilities is a massive undertaking.
"It sounds like a lot to accommodate," said Michael White, chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, who said he wants to look deeper into the plans now that they've been formally articulated.
Desmond Ryan, executive director of the developer group, Association for a Better Long Island, called the prospect of three Long Island casinos "highly unlikely" and said a $380-million state pact with the developer Genting New York to open a racino at Aqueduct - a limited casino at the racetrack with no table games - could mean the nearby Nassau Coliseum location is out. A more likely scenario, he said, is one location at the Nassau-Suffolk border, and perhaps another in Calverton.
Brown said the tribe hasn't settled on any location and would not specify which were favorites.
The commission has been reviewing sites and meeting with real estate and political leaders for years, but much of that work has been behind the scenes. Yesterday's meeting was viewed as an important outward push by the commission, which has said community support is critical for opening a casino.
"We do care about our neighbors," commission treasurer Barre Hamp said. "It's not about going in to drop a facility and push it down your throat."
The commission, formed in 2003, has been studying casinos around the country for years, said vice chairwoman Joan Williams, and is putting as much planning, strategy and legal rigor into developing a Shinnecock facility as any municipal zoning and workplace laws would require, maybe more.
"We will have all the red tape New York State has," Williams said. "It will be at a tribal level, but we will meet or exceed" existing standards.
No casinos out East
Hamp was quick to note that federal recognition will grant the tribe the right to open a Class II gaming facility on its own tribal lands, which would allow video lottery terminals, but not table games. The tribe has agreements with political leaders not to target locations east of County Road 104 in Westhampton in exchange for help opening casinos on land elsewhere on Long Island.
"We're not going to give up that right to do gaming on our land," Hamp said. "We will honor our agreement with [political leaders], but we're not going to wait 30 years to build a facility."
David Einbinder, president of the real estate group and partner of First Development Corp., a Hauppauge real estate development company, said he believes the Island could accommodate three casinos, but "I always say start with one, see how it does, do it successfully, make it the best it can be, and if you are entitled to two more, then sure."
He suggested building the first in Suffolk, where open land is more plentiful. "I don't see it happening in a very dense area of Nassau County," he said, though he added, "The Coliseum would be nice. It would be nice to see Charles Wang and Scott Rechler's vision enhanced with a casino."
Community must want it
The price must be right
Infrastructure such as electric, water and sewage should be in place.
Some environmental studies should be in place;
Easy access to site is key
Top potential sites
Enterprise Park and surrounding sites