Shinnecock Nation Plans To Build Casino On Tribal Land

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A rendering of the planned casino.

The Shinnecock Nation announced Wednesday that it will begin work this summer on a 76,000-square-foot casino located on its 800-acre territory just west of Southampton Village.

The casino, envisioned as potentially the first of many such facilities across the state, would be outfitted with 1,000 video lottery terminals and 30 tables limited to Texas Hold ’Em poker games.

It was overwhelmingly approved by a tribal vote in December, according to Shinnecock Tribal Council Chairman Bryan Polite, and has already been approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission, allowing it move forward pending an environmental review by that commission. Local zoning rules would not be in play on tribal territory.

The Shinnecock Casino Hamptons, which is expected to be open by early to mid-2023, is planned for an 11-acre portion of the Shinnecock Territory slated for economic redevelopment off Montauk Highway and just east of West Gate Road.

Both Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said they were disappointed that the tribe has decided to move forward with a casino, citing their opposition to gambling as a form of economic development and concerns about the traffic and environmental impacts posed by the project.

The tribe will work with Tri State Partners, a development firm that has partnered with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the owner of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino chain, on its Atlantic City casino. Tri State will oversee food concessions and entertainment options.

Although the Shinnecock announced in September that it had signed a casino development deal with the Seminoles, that tribe is not a partner in this project, nor will the local gaming facility be associated with the Hard Rock brand.

“In this particular instance, the Seminole Tribe has been providing us with resources both financially and technically so we can get the necessary approvals,” Mr. Polite said.

The proposed casino will be a Class II gaming facility, which means it will be limited to electronic gaming machines and other small stakes games. If the tribe were to seek a Class III license — which would allow it to open a full-scale casino, like Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods in Connecticut, with table games like blackjack and roulette, as well as slot machines — it would have to negotiate a compact with the governor’s office, a much steeper mountain to climb.

Still, asked during a conference call on Monday if a Class III casino is the tribe’s ultimate goal, Jack Morris, a principal in Tri State Partners, replied, “We hope so.”

In a press release accompanying the announcement, Mr. Morris made it clear that the shared goal is a much larger footprint. “We are starting with the casino, but we are also looking at multiple options for additional land acquisitions off territory,” he said, “potentially including developing waterfront properties and hotels, which the eastern end of Long Island is lacking.”

“It is our intention that this is the first of a number of casinos we hope to build in New York,” said the Tribal Trustees in that same release. “At a time when we see our country recognizing the rights of all of its citizens, we hope this extends to some of New York’s first inhabitants, the members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.”

The tribe has pursued gaming for nearly 20 years and has tried unsuccessfully to work with the state to find alternative locations, Mr. Polite said. “Our people can’t keep waiting,” he said. “The state has not taken us seriously, so we have been forced to play the hand we were dealt.”

The project is being developed as part of the tribe’s broader efforts to spur economic development for its people, Mr. Polite said. Those efforts also include a proposed medical cannabis facility, also on the tribe’s Shinnecock territory, as well as a proposed gas station and convenience store, and a pair of recently constructed digital billboards next to Sunrise Highway on the tribe’s Westwoods property in Hampton Bays.

Mr. Polite said the casino is expected to generate a significant source of revenue. “It will be substantial, for sure,” he said, “but we are not going to disclose a preliminary projection.”

The casino will be a source of as many as 400 year-round jobs, with many of those positions going to those outside the Shinnecock Nation, he added.

The facility will be built on a site that is already partially cleared on the west side of the Shinnecock territory behind the Shinnecock Cultural Center and several smoke shops that line Montauk Highway.

When informed of the tribe’s plans, Supervisor Schneiderman said, “It’s hard for me to think of a worse location from an environmental or traffic perspective.” But he acknowledged that because the proposed project is on Shinnecock Territory, he had limited options other than to ask the tribe to reconsider.

Mr. Schneiderman questioned whether the casino would be as successful as the tribe envisions, noting that traffic along Montauk Highway is already backed up most of the time.

“If they are trying to compete with Jake’s 58 [in Islandia], it doesn’t make sense as an economic model to have a similar facility that takes two hours longer to get there” from western Long Island and New York City, he added.

The supervisor also said he frowned on gambling as a form of economic development. “I’ve seen it destroy people’s lives,” he said. “There are just too many impacts on society and the community.”

Mr. Thiele also cited his opposition to gambling. “In all my years as an elected official, I’ve always been opposed to the expansion of gambling in the State of New York,” he said. “Regardless of who is proposing it, Donald Trump or the Shinnecock Indian Nation, I’m against it.”

He said he would prefer to see the tribe concentrate on pursuing activities like its proposal for a gas station on Sunrise Highway.

He added that since New York amended its state constitution to allow casinos, they have not generated anywhere near the revenue they were projected to produce.

“I think it’s a poor form of economic development,” he said. “At some point you reach diminishing returns. You can only set up so many gaming facilities across the state.”

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