Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation perform a traditional victory...

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation perform a traditional victory dance as the tribe celebrated a decision to clear the way for federal recognition. (Oct. 1, 2010) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The U.S. Interior Department's decision to be more flexible on Indian gaming applications is a welcome sign. The Shinnecock Indian Nation, however, will need a lot more help from Washington and Albany before it can build casinos on Long Island.

The reversal of a Bush administration policy that required casinos to be within commuting distance of tribal land has immediate benefits for the St. Regis Mohawks and the Stockbridge-Munsee tribes in their long quest to build in the Catskills. The excellent Belmont Park site in Elmont, as well as several additional ones in Suffolk under consideration by the Southampton tribe, would have qualified anyway.

The policy change, however, shows that Sen. Charles Schumer, who lobbied intensely for the Mohawks, is willing to exert a major effort -- if the Shinnecocks can show deep community and political support for their plans.

As Schumer waits for Albany to signal support, and state leaders seem hesitant to commit until they are sure the senator will join the parade, the tribe might be left with a losing hand. New York racetrack owners are lobbying for a constitutional amendment to permit full-scale casinos at existing "racinos," now limited to slots only.

The Shinnecocks have the strong backing of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), but haven't yet been able to present plans for the Belmont location to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). As the legislative session ends, it's time to focus on the Shinnecocks.