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Oct 1, 2014 9:44 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shinnecock Indian Nation Disbands Tribal Gaming Authority

Oct 1, 2014 10:20 AM

With the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s casino plans shelved and the specter of an FBI investigation and unsolved arson swirling, members of the tribe voted earlier this month to disband the tribe’s Gaming Authority.

Support for disbanding the five-member Gaming Authority was broad but not unanimous. The vote was 110-41 for the dissolution of the authority, according to tallies shared with The Press by a tribal source. Tribal leaders have not responded to requests for information about the vote.

The sentiment among tribe members about the Gaming Authority’s dealings over the last 10 years had been swung to doubt and suspicion, one tribe member said.

“A lot of people are wondering about some of the things the Gaming Authority was doing and why the FBI seized their papers,” said the tribe member, who spoke on the condition of not being identified, because of fears of retribution for speaking with The Press. “They didn’t trust them anymore, and nobody is sure where the casino is going right now, and it was just better to get rid of the Gaming Authority.”

The tribe formed the Gaming Authority in 2003, as the official body in charge of representing the tribe in any negotiations and contractual work toward the development of a gaming facility and, ultimately, the operation of a casino owned by the tribe. Five members were appointed to the authority and approved by tribe members through a referendum: Donna Collins, Karen Hunter, Joan Crippen Williams, Phil Brown and Barre Hamp. The Gaming Authority members each were paid an annual salary of $60,000.

The Gaming Authority’s negotiations were with Gateway Casino Resorts, the Detroit-based development company that partnered with the tribe in its years-long battle for recognition and to secure the rights to opening a casino on Long Island. With their eyes on the anticipated windfall, estimated to be as much as $1 billion a year from a full-fledged casino somewhere on the island, Gateway pumped millions of dollars into tribal legal fees and salaries for more than two dozen tribe members.

Rifts began to cleave the Gaming Authority in 2011 and 2012 as two members, Mr. Brown and Mr. Hamp, said they raised questions about some of the stipulations of the contracts being drafted with Gateway. Shortly thereafter, a campaign was sparked by some tribal members to have Mr. Hamp and Mr. Brown removed from office, along with then-Tribal Trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, based on accusations that they had been working on land-acquisition deals—one involving plans for a tribal partnership in purchasing the Nassau Coliseum property—that tribe members were not aware of.

The men said at the time that the campaign was based on misinformation and the tribal vote that removed them from office was illegal and directed by relatives and supporters of tribal leaders who had given Gateway principal Michael Malik too much control over the casino plans and operations and too great a share of the future revenues.

Shortly after the ouster, in late 2012, Gateway cut off its $250,000 monthly payments to the tribe and has since faded from contact, though it still technically holds the legal rights to be the tribe’s development partner.

Just a few months later, in May 2013, FBI agents swarmed onto the reservation and seized documents and computers from the Gaming Authority’s offices and from the home of one of its members. The specific focus of their investigation has never been made public.

Six months after that, the Gaming Authority offices—and volumes of documents not seized by the FBI—were destroyed in a fire that was officially ruled arson, though no one has ever been arrested for setting the blaze.

The tribe’s current position, with regard to its potential future in gaming, is unknown. The seven members of the Council of Trustees have declined to discuss any tribal business with The Press or the public since taking office 10 months ago.

Anecdotal reports from numerous tribal members during that time have indicated that the Gateway relationship has gone sour and that the casino effort, on the scale originally envisioned, is shelved indefinitely. Some tribe members have reportedly been in discussions with members of the Seminole tribe in Florida about opening and operating a smaller-scale casino, possibly on the tribal reservation in Southampton.

In all, 155 members of the tribe cast ballots in the September 13 referendum that dissolved the Gaming Authority.

In the same vote, tribal members also weighed in on two other new policies: one a tobacco ordinance giving the tribe the right to oversee cigarette sellers on the reservation, and charge them fees for operating; the other a residency requirement for those non-Shinnecock residents of the reservation living with tribe members. Both measures passed, though by far tighter margins than the Gaming Authority dissolution.

The tobacco ordinance passed by a margin of 98-55, or about 63 percent support. The ordinance creates a tribal authority, the Office of Tribal Tobacco Products, that will oversee and license all sales of tobacco by tribe members with smoke shops on the reservation. The authority will stamp all cigarettes sold by the smoke shops and will levy a tax on the sellers, at a rate not yet determined.

The ordinance was billed as a protective measure for sellers, against state efforts to derail tribal cigarette sales, and as a revenue source for tribal operations.

The residency ordinance, which passed by a vote of 91-63, will regulate residency and visitation by non-Shinnecocks to the tribal reservation. The ordinance language states that non-tribe members may live on the reservation if they are married to or living with a tribe member, or are the parent of children under the age of 18 that are tribe members. Non-Native American guests may visit the reservation at the invitation of a tribe member but must register with the Council of Trustees if they are to stay longer than five days and must get special permission to stay more than two weeks. Native American guests may stay up to six months but must get permission from the tribal leaders to stay longer.

Any guest may be ousted from the reservation by tribal security if they are caught breaking any one of a number of prohibitions and rules for guests, including hunting or fishing, littering, reckless driving, destruction of property or erecting signs designed to communicate to the public.

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So the wheel of history turns. I remember in 2003, when it was a big front-page story that the Shinnecock were going to explore opening a gaming facility. There was a lot of opposition, some of it knee-jerk and some of it intelligent, but there was also a lot of hope and a feeling that some people who had gotten a raw deal to say the least, were now going to catch a break that might benefit them in a big way.

Now, eleven years later, we learn that the Gaming Authority is disbanded and ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Oct 1, 14 12:28 PM
1 member liked this comment
hmmmm . . .$250,000 a month, huh? What's all the crying about being so poor and needing federal aid?
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Oct 1, 14 6:18 PM
How about a gas station, healthier than ciggy’s.
By alhavel (50), Hampton Bays on Oct 1, 14 6:29 PM
Maybe now they can spend a few bucks and clean up Westwoods, which is turning into an eyesore. Jersey barriers, seriously? Show some respect toward your sacred ground.
By SHPredatorDept (72), Southampton on Oct 2, 14 12:21 PM
1 member liked this comment
18 hole golf course in Westwood. Partner with a noted designer and operator, create jobs for tribal members. Certainly some of them have the skill sets. The Shinnecock name, overlooking Peconic bay. Done and run right, it could be an asset to the tribe while raising property values nearby. Greens fees affordable for locals, stiff for out of towners. Pro forma revenue may not be as mouthwatering as a casino, but probably far more achievable. Lost a decade + already.
"Shinnecock Woods Golf Resort" ...more
By smacw (240), New York on Oct 2, 14 3:40 PM
1 member liked this comment
Shinnecock Shores GC ?
By david h (405), southampton on Oct 2, 14 4:33 PM
Shinnecock National ha a natural ring; right because of the component "Nation" ..but the "National" moniker is so over done, like a franchise ..actually that means it has a better chance of being chosen!
..that property is so beautiful, you couldn't wreck it /a blind person could make it spectacular... it would be more of a challenge to ruin it even
By david h (405), southampton on Oct 2, 14 4:40 PM
Sure, up to the Shinnecocks ultimately. That other golf club surely doesn't have a monopoly on the name
By smacw (240), New York on Oct 2, 14 4:37 PM
They cant make $$ from a public golf course, they want the $$$$$!!!
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Oct 3, 14 7:08 AM
Go for the tax free gas than, 24 hours a day, and they can still sell the damn cigs, as well as coffee. Open the golf course too, Lots of memories, as the elders worked as caddies in another time at SGC.
By alhavel (50), Hampton Bays on Oct 3, 14 9:19 AM
put in a King Kullen. area needs one.
By david h (405), southampton on Oct 8, 14 9:54 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By maxwell (169), speonk on Oct 9, 14 10:08 PM
You do realize that $11/hr is less than poverty wage for a family of four, don't you?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Oct 9, 14 10:45 PM