Sunday, December 27, 2009

Shinnecocks Mull Boro Gaming Bid by Howard Koplowitz- TimesLedger Newspapers

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The Shinnecock Indian Nation on Long Island is one step closer to federal recognition, which could pave the way for the tribe to open up a casino either at Aqueduct Race Track or Belmont Park.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Recognition has issued a preliminary ruling that the Shinnecock should be added to the list of federally recognized tribes in the country.

“As a result of this finding, our more than 30-year quest for federal recognition is finally within our grasp,” Shinnecock Board of Trustees Chairman Randy King said in a statement. “We look forward to reclaiming our rightful place on this list, which will enable us to qualify for federal programs long denied to our people. To be denied the ability to partner with the federal government on housing, health care, educational and economic justice initiatives is no longer tolerable.”

The tribe has been recognized by New York state since colonial times, but the Shinnecock have been fighting for federal recognition since 1978.

“This preliminary ruling makes clear that our placement on the federal list is only a matter of time. We look forward to improving the quality of life for our people, who have waited far too long for this day,” said Shinnecock Trustee Richard Bess.

In 2007, the tribe proposed a casino at Aqueduct Race Track, but it did not have the blessing of the area’s elected officials. State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) said the proposal was too ambitious because it included space for poker and blackjack tables.

The proposal was later rescinded.

Shinnecock spokeswoman Beverly Jensen said the tribe is waiting on federal recognition before fully developing plans for a casino.

“The plan is this: We don’t have a plan,” she said. “We are definitely going to look into a casino. Right now we need that federal recognition recognized.”

Jensen said the Shinnecock reservation in Southampton is not suitable to build a casino so the tribe is looking to build one elsewhere.

“We don’t have enough room. We have a very small reservation,” she said.

Jensen said the tribe has all options open as to where to build a casino once it is federally recognized.

“At the moment, we are looking at any place and we are looking at all places,” including Belmont and Aqueduct, she said. “We are not site-specific at this time.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173."