Tribe wants casino at NY’s Aqueduct

October 16, 2007 3:28 AM
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An American Indian tribe awaiting federal recognition is set to submit a plan to build a casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, tribal leaders said last week.

If the proposal is accepted — it will have a long road ahead, given the political and regulatory hurdles — the tribe, Shinnecock Indian Nation, has said it will abandon plans to construct a similar venue at its 800-acre reservation in the East End of Long Island. That project has been the source of a legal dispute between the tribe and its neighbors.

Earlier this year the state issued a request for proposals for the operation of video-lottery terminals at Aqueduct in Ozone Park. The tribe’s plans, however, are more ambitious in size and scope: The casino would have 490,000 square feet of gambling space, with 350 card tables and more than 10,000 slot machines.

Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock trustees, said the project would generate 22,000 permanent jobs and about $2.1 billion a year in revenues, with about a quarter of that going to the state.

The Shinnecocks do not plan to take over operations of the Aqueduct track, King said.

"This proposal is about promoting prosperity, both for our tribe and our state, which has lost an enormous amount in potential revenue to casinos in places like Atlantic City and Connecticut, which are not that far away," King said in an interview.

Tom Shields, a spokesman for Gateway Casino Resorts, a Michigan company that owns a casino in Detroit and is the Shinnecocks’ partner in the project, said it was "a perfect opportunity to suggest to the state of New York that you can do better than just turn Aqueduct into a slot house."

Casinos are illegal in New York unless they are operated by Indian tribes and are situated on tribal land. A federal judge ruled in 2005 that the Shinnecocks were entitled to federal recognition, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not acknowledged the decision. The tribe has filed a suit to force the federal government’s hand in making a decision.

New York State has recognized the tribe for centuries. With federal recognition, the Shinnecocks could acquire land at Aqueduct, with state agreement.

The tribe has tried for years to break into the gambling business. In 2003, the Shinnecocks broke ground on a casino proposed for its reservation in Hampton Bays; that project is currently in litigation.