- The failing economy combined with a heavily anticipated court ruling giving the Shinnecock Nation the right to establish a casino on their land or within a 25-mile radius of their Reservation in Southampton has prompted the Suffolk County Legislature to create a task force to study the issue with an eye towards gaining increased participation in the process.
If all goes as they hope, the Shinnecock Nation will receive its long awaited recognition as a tribe from the federal government sometime in 2009 or by mid-2010 at the latest. Presently the Shinnecock Nation is a self-governing entity recognized by the state but not the federal government.
Lance Gumbs of the Shinnecock Nation hit the road this week shuttling between Long
Island where he appeared in court and Washington, DC where he met with
representatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs seeking federal recognition as a tribe.
The ruling, if favorable, among other major advantages, would enable the Shinnecock Nation to move forward in firming up long-awaited plans to establish a resort and casino in the region. The debate surrounding the eventuality of an Indian owned casino located on the East End has simmered for over two decades as feasibility regarding increased traffic and the potential of overburdening the area's infrastructure has pitted area residents against proponents from the Shinnecock leadership.
"There has been a lot of misinformation concerning what we want to do," Lance Gumbs, Tribal Trustee of the Shinnecock Nation, said this week as he prepared to make yet another round of appearances shuffling between hearings at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC and Federal District Court in Islip as part of the Nation's on-going efforts to achieve tribal status.
Gumbs was headed to the nation's capital Tuesday, Jan. 6, where he had plans to meet with representatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs before an appearance in Federal District Court in Islip this week. Following his court appearance Gumbs will be back in Washington, DC on Friday for yet another meeting.
"We are hoping this all falls into place," Gumbs said as he finalized his travel arrangements. "But right now it's too early to say anything."
The 75-acre Westwoods bayside property owned by the Shinnecock Nation has been eyed as a possible location for a casino and resort for several years. Image courtesy of Google Earth
Receiving a nod of support by Shinnecock Nation Trustee Gumbs, who eagerly welcomed the county's involvement in the process, the creation of a task force however was less than well received by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy
who noted he was opposed to the establishment of a casino but would not stand in the way
of a study group aimed at fact finding.
Gumbs was not surprised at Levy's reaction noting the County Executive has repeatedly refused to meet with representatives of the Shinnecock Nation to discuss Indian Gaming on reservation lands in the past.
The Shinnecock Nation owns 1,200 acres of land to the
southern side of Hill Street in Southampton where nearly
600 of the 1,300 member nation currently reside.
"We have called his office, we have sent him letters, but we get no response," Gumbs said, describing the Shinnecocks' efforts to meet with Levy to discuss their plans. "Then he comes out and speaks against us without having any facts or figures or even knowing what he is talking about. What we are proposing is the next wave of the tourist trade in The Hamptons."
The Shinnecocks would like to create a resort destination entertainment facility. "It's not just about setting up a casino," Gumbs said. "We want to create a motel and convention center as well. We are getting a lot of favorable response from the community despite the prevailing fear factor."
Gumbs noted Indian gaming is regulated at the federal and state level and is subject to internal Tribal regulation as well. "For Levy to compare us to gambling in Las Vegas or Atlantic
City is irresponsible and uninformed," Gumbs asserted.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Plans to create a gaming establishment at Westwoods, a 75-acre bay-front tract in Hampton Bays owned by the Shinnecock Nation, have been in the discussion stages for some time. However, these plans cannot advance until the Nation receives its long awaited recognition as a tribe from the federal government.
"If this happens it will come out of the blue like a rocket," Suffolk County Legislature Wayne Horsely (D-Babylon) predicted. "We want to be prepared because it will mean jobs, jobs, jobs."
Horsely, along with the Legislature's Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), drafted and sponsored legislation to create the Task Force in an effort to ensure greater county participation in the development of the Shinnecock Nation's gaming plans.
"A gaming establishment on Long Island could be an economic jackpot for the county, for the construction industry and for job seekers," Lindsay observed in a press release issued by his office in December.
Gumbs noted the Indian gaming establishment at Foxwoods, affiliated with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, in Ledyard, CT has created 10,200 jobs that have resulted in $445 million in salaries, funneling resources back into the local economy since its creation in 1986.
Thousands of Long Islanders travel to Connecticut where they frequent Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun, two very successful Indian Gaming establishments that feature big name entertainers, restaurants, shops and nearby golf courses that also appeal to tourists who want to take a break from the gaming tables.
Foxwoods and the nearby Mohegan Tribe affiliated Mohegan Sun, attracts tourists as well as local families who spend a day at the gaming establishments where visitors can do more than play the tables and hit the slot machines. Top name entertainers frequently showcase these venues presenting an on-going array of concerts. The casinos also offer premiere shopping and dinning attractions and are located close to golf courses providing a multifaceted experience for visitors.
Long Islanders reportedly spend more than $235 million at Indian Gaming casinos
in nearby Connecticut. Pictured here, Mohegan Sun.
County officials estimate a staggering $243 million goes out of state when Long Islanders ferry over to gaming resorts in Connecticut.
"Our primary objective has always been to create jobs for our people,' Gumbs said mindful of the ripple effect that a major project would have on the regional economy. " First you would see construction jobs then you will see all the ancillary economic benefits."
Gumbs acknowledged the current economic realities as a major factor in the county's creation of a gaming task force, yet noted the Nation's objectives formed years ago in a vastly different economic climate have not necessarily changed.
Our priority is to create jobs for our people at a facility that is conveniently located within easy commuting distance of their homes. We are not asking for restitution here, we are asking people to get out of our way and let us do this for ourselves," Gumbs said.
The task force is expected to be comprised of 11 members and will include representatives from the nation. There will also be representatives from the County Executive's office, the county's Off Track Betting Office Corporation and the County's Planning Department who will serve along with representatives from the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council and the Long Island Association. The chairman of County's Economic, Higher Education and Energy Committee will chair the task force. The Legislature's presiding officer will also be a sitting member.
The Shinnecock Nation is an integral part of Southampton Town. Tribal officials view
the establishment of a gaming and resort facility as the next wave of tourism on the
East End and important source of economic self-sufficiency for the Nation's people.
"I will not serve on the task force," Horsely said, noting he will be involved in the selection. "I want someone with strong business experience to head it up so we can get a sense of what will work and what won't." The task force may be expanded in the next few weeks with additional slots added as appointments are made.
The task force is expected to explore possible sites for the gaming establishment and the proposed related tourist facilities that will include restaurants and family entertainment. County owned properties are being considered as possible sites.
"People need to stop talking about the Hampton Bays site in terms of the adverse impact our project will have on the community," Gumbs said. "In fact, we can do this on Hampton Bays property with minimal impact on the community."
Opponents of a regional casino facility have pointed to an increase in traffic and neighborhood congestion as their major objection.
"There is no traffic problem near Westwoods," Gumbs noted. "We have to take our neighbors into consideration, but our neighbors also have to take us into consideration too."
Gumbs pointed to the lack of adequate convention and resort facilities on the South Fork noting the Shinnecock project would fill a void by providing an affordable and conveniently located facility where weddings and conventions could be also held. He predicted a casino resort destination would also increase lodging options available to tourists who travel to the area.