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Shinnecock Tribe moving closer to casino

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December 21, 2009

LONG ISLAND - The Shinnecock Indians of Eastern Long Island is moving closer in their quest to build an Indian casino Tuesday when the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed federal recognition for the tribe.

The next step will be a ninety day comment period followed by a thirty day waiting period. A final decision could come down sometime in May, and it is likely the tribe will get permission to open a "Class II" casino, which means it can operate slot machines but no table games.

The Shinnecocks live on a 1.9-square-mile reservation in the Hamptons, and may not be acceptable for an Indian casino.

"I don't feel the type of facility we're envisioning would be right for eastern Long Island," said Fred Bess, a Shinnecock trustee heading the tribes casino project. He noted horrible traffic problems and the community objection to attracting gamblers. He said the tribe would like to go elsewhere. Possible locations include Calverton in Suffolk County, the Belmont Park horse track in neighboring Nassau County, Aqueduct Raceway in Queens or as far north as the Catskills.

Bess estimated it would take 18 months to build a casino after federal approval and other regulatory approvals are granted.

There are still major obstacles for the tribe to overcome. The first will be approval for an "off-reservation" casino. The land for the casino must be taken into trust by the federal government. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs there have only been four off-reservation casino ever approved, and there has been none since the 1990s.

Another obstacle is a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year excludes all tribes recognized after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act from having off-reservation land placed into trust. Congress is now considering legislation that will remove this restriction.

There also is a federal requirement for new Indian casinos to be located within 75 miles of the reservation. This is considered the maximum driving distance so tribal members can work at the casino.

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