Shinnecocks: We’ve got dozens of casino options in Suffolk, Riverhead

07/29/2010 12:00 AM |

Shinnecock Indian Nation trustee Lance Gumbs listens to a proposal for locating a tribal casino on land in Calverton at the county’s Gaming Task Force meeting in Hauppauge last Thursday.

The three Calverton sites that have been presented to Suffolk County’s Gaming Task Force as possible locations for a Shinnecock Indian Nation casino are not the only ones in Riverhead Town the Shinnecocks have been offered, according to Lance Gumbs, a senior trustee with the tribe.

He said other sites throughout the town, not just in Calverton, had been suggested, although he declined to name them.

And overall, Mr. Gumbs told reporters after Thursday’s meeting of the task force, “upwards of 30 sites” in Suffolk County have been presented to the Shinnecocks as possible homes for a casino.

“We never realized how much land is available on Long Island until this happened,” Mr. Gumbs said. “Everybody and their brother now is presenting different pieces to us.”

Mr. Gumbs said the Shinnecocks hope to select a site by the end of the year. As he spoke to reporters, a real estate agent was waiting to talk to him about another site in Calverton. Mr. Gumbs said the selection process had actually been slowed by all the options the tribe has to choose from.

Representatives of two Calverton sites made presentations to the Gaming Task Force last Thursday. One, a 131-acre site adjacent to Splish Splash on Route 25, consists of two parcels, one owned by Bagatelle Associates and the other by Eletag Associates, both from Brooklyn.

Joe Nehmad, a broker for Fillmore Real Estate of Brooklyn, which represents the property owners, told the task force that one benefit of the site is its frontage on both Route 25 and the Long Island Expressway.

“This property gives you enough land to develop the project and in the future to expand, if need be,” Mr. Nehmad said. He said the zoning was a negative, in that it is zoned for industrial uses, but Mr. Gumbs said later that zoning is not a factor, because if the Shinnecocks were to build a casino on off-reservation property, they would have to first buy the land and then put it in a trust with the federal government, which would supersede zoning.

“That’s a very interesting piece,” Mr. Gumbs told reporters afterward. “Especially with Splish Splash and Tanger right there. That’s actually a very interesting piece. It would be even more interesting if the piece next to it was available.”

The “piece next to it” is 134 acres of farmland owned by Marie Tooker, who showed up at Thursday’s meeting with her attorney to voice support for putting the casino on the acreage adjacent to her property.

The second property discussed Thursday was the proposed Riverhead Resorts site at the Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL).

That property, which totals 755 acres, is still owned by Riverhead Town, but the town is in contract to sell it to Riverhead Resorts for $108 million. Riverhead Resorts wants to build eight year-round theme resorts, each with a hotel and restaurant and condos, according to attorney Mitch Pally. Riverhead Resorts is committed to trying to finalize the contract before the end of the year, but Mr. Pally said it’s unclear whether that can happen, since the property must be subdivided first, and there are issues with the state over which government agency would lead the review of the subdivision application.

Mr. Pally said that, while the contract with the town contains a prohibition on casinos, he did have the consent of the Town Board to appear before the task force.

Whether the Town Board will actually consent to allowing a casino is not clear, based on interviews with board members.

And after Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Gumbs said other issues remained unclear about a possible Shinnecock alliance with Riverhead Resorts.

For one, the Shinnecocks would have to own the land in order for it to be placed in a federal trust. That would mean Riverhead Resorts might have to do another subdivision to sell part of its land to the tribe and might possibly have to shrink the size of its proposal.

Mr. Pally said that issue has yet to be decided.

Mr. Gumbs said another concern about teaming up with Riverhead Resorts is that its resort proposal contains many of the same uses the Shinnecocks are planning.

“We not just building a casino,” Mr. Gumbs said.

The third Calverton site to have been made public is a 95-acre parcel owned by Engel Burman Group in the industrial core of EPCAL. Jan Burman of that group made a presentation before the task force last month.

Meanwhile, John Paulson of the Manor Park Civic Association told the task force Thursday that 40 Brookhaven Town civic associations are now opposed to having a casino anywhere in Brookhaven Town. The town-owned Calabro Airport in Shirley is one site being considered.

“This is the people speaking, not the politicians,” Mr. Paulson said.

He said casinos will bring traffic, prostitution, crime and the draining of police and government resources. Mr. Gumbs has refuted such claims and pointed to the example of the two Connecticut casinos owned by Indian tribes.

“The nation has property of its own and you can build your casinos there,” Mr. Paulson said. “But when you seek to build off your land, don’t get offended when we oppose it.”

Mr. Gumbs said afterward that town, state and federal leaders had asked the tribe not to build a casino on 80 acres it owns off Newtown Road in Hampton Bays.

The process of getting approval for an Indian casino on non-reservation land is considered difficult, and only four off-reservation casinos have been built nationwide.

Asked about the odds, Mr. Gumbs said, “Our political people have to get behind us. You can’t say you don’t want it in our territory but then not support us moving it someplace else.”

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