On June 15, the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island got what it’s been waiting for: word from the federal government that it is an officially acknowledged tribe. The good news was met with drumming and an Algonquin victory song.
As a listed tribe, the nation will be eligible for government assistance and a host of grants and programs. It will also be able to establish a casino, on or off the Long Island reservation, which could provide substantial and enduring economic benefit to more than 1,200 tribal members.
The tribe may build on its 800-acre ancestral home in wealthy Southampton, or choose a remote site, such as a tract in Calverton, Suffolk County. Some observers have speculated that the tribe could consider a racino at Belmont Park, join the bidders hoping to run the Aqueduct slot parlor (even though they missed the deadline), or establish a gaming facility at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Southampton site could be problematic for several reasons, including anticipated opposition from the community’s wealthy residents, the inaccessible location and insufficient infrastructure—especially roadways, which are already choked during the busy summer months.
“We are surrounded by water, we have a very fragile ecosystem, and our population pretty much doubles during the high season,” Anna Throne-Holst, the Southampton town supervisor, told the New York Times. “There’s no telling what a casino might do, but the tribe is very sensitive to that.”
In addition, a Class II tribal casino on the reservation could have thousands of slot machines, but no Vegas-style games like blackjack and poker. An off-reservation, Class III casino with table games would be potentially far more lucrative.
The economy could also have a discouraging effect on casino plans, and there is likely to be “well-financed opposition” to another tribal gaming hall from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, according to the Times. Some 30 percent of Foxwoods’ customers hail from the New York City area, the casino reported.
For now, tribal officials are not showing their cards when it comes to future gaming plans. “This is the most historic moment in Shinnecock history,” trustee Lance Gumbs told the Associated Press. “Any discussion of a casino is a secondary thought.”
In 2003, the tribe broke ground on a casino on Long Island, but Southampton officials complained and a federal judge issued an injunction to halt construction. The Shinnecocks then sought to circumvent the federal approval process by seeking recognition in federal court, but a judge rejected that effort in 2007.
Even with federal recognition, the tribe needs additional federal and state approvals before it can open and operate a casino.
New York Governor David Paterson, who has been vocal in his support of the tribe, said his administration would gladly “explore with them ways in which they might be able to partner with us and bring revenues into the state.”