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May 13, 2008 3:41 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Tribe pitches economic benefits of casino to county

May 13, 2008 3:41 AM

The leadership of the Shinnecock Indian Nation told members of the Suffolk County Legislature last week that having a casino in the county, wherever it might be located, would be a financial boon to nearly every sector of the regional economy.

Also, for the first time, a tribal leader admitted publicly that the Shinnecocks never planned to develop the tribe-owned Westwoods property along Newtown Road in Hampton Bays, where a groundbreaking ceremony for a gaming facility was held in 2001—but instead used the property as a bargaining chip, with hopes of finding a more suitable site to the west.

In a pitch that focused on the financial windfalls and job growth that the mammoth Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos brought to rural Connecticut, the Shinnecock tribal leaders told the five county legislators on the Economic Development, Higher Education and Energy Committee last week that a Shinnecock-sponsored casino would bring enormous benefits to Suffolk County if a suitable site were found.

Thousands of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in revenues for schools, police and fire departments, and business for local contractors would follow the development and growth of a casino, Shinnecock Tribal Trustees Fred Bess, Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright told the legislators in a public presentation, the result of a request by the tribe, at the legislature’s offices in Hauppauge on Wednesday, May 8.

“Everywhere that Indian gaming has come into a community, it has been beneficial to everyone,” Mr. Gumbs told the panel of legislators, all from western Suffolk County districts. “The benefits that are available are absolutely phenomenal.”

The tribe pointed to the financial success of the two Connecticut casinos less than 50 miles away—the owners of which, they said, would be less than pleased with the Shinnecocks’ plans—as an example of the windfall the county could realize.

The Foxwoods casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, with 340,000 square feet of gaming space, more than 1,400 hotel rooms and some 10,000 employees, contributes more than $400 million in revenue a year to the State of Connecticut by virtue of the compacts on gaming its Native American owners, the Mashantucket Pequot, reached with the Connecticut state government. That revenue figure, according to the Shinnecock leaders’ presentation, was reported in a 2007 study prepared for an economic impact summit held by the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.

The contributions to the state are expected to climb again in the coming years after the new MGM Grand casino and hotel opens on the Foxwoods property. Its construction is pegged to cost more than $700 million, including $426 million in construction workers’ salaries.

Mohegan Sun, a separate casino in nearby Uncasville, Connecticut, owned by a gaming authority created by the Mohegan Native American tribe, has comparable revenues and an even larger expansion project in the works, effectively doubling those figures across the board, tribal leaders told the panel.

For their part, the five county legislators were cautious and inquisitive about the role Suffolk County government would play in any approval of a Shinnecock casino within its borders. Legislator Louis D’Amaro made note of geographical differences between Long Island and Connecticut that could mean greater impacts on traffic, and he questioned whether the wages paid at the Connecticut casinos would match Long Island’s high cost of living. Both were issues that the tribal leaders said were on their minds already and are being examined by their consultants.

The legislators said that, all in all, they welcomed the Shinnecocks having reached out to them. “It never hurts to talk,” Legislator D’Amaro said.

A study prepared by a consultant for former Shinnecock financial backer Ivy Ong in 2002 predicted that a casino on Long Island could, because of its proximity to New York City, expect to draw millions of visitors a year soon after opening. That would spur rapid expansion of its gaming facilities and ancillary amenities, such as hotel rooms, entertainment venues, restaurants and nightclubs. The study found that a facility unlimited by land constraints could easily grow to the size of Foxwoods, the largest casino in the world, within a decade and could expect to bring in more than a $1 billion in revenues a year.

Mr. Ong, a California real estate investor, sold his financial stake in the Shinnecocks’ casino efforts in 2004 to Gateway Casino Resorts, which will have a stake in the future casino’s profits in exchange for funding the expensive legal battles along the way.

Prompted by Legislator Wayne R. Horsely’s question about the tribe’s vision for the future casino, Mr. Gumbs said the tribe hadn’t discussed a definitive size but said that there are formulas that predict what size is most economically feasible.

“It would be the size that would be most feasible,” Mr. Gumbs said, but he added that he expects it to be more than a gaming facility, saying any development likely would include a golf course, hotel rooms, convention space and entertainment venues.

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Although the information we get from 27 East & Newsday is sketchy at best, it is really the only information we have about the casino plans and the different maneuverings of people like Wayne Horsely and Gateway Casinos (the interested investors funding the Shinnecock Indian Casino ventures.) It would be most appropriate if there would be a website where all plans were fully disclosed and discussed, a place where all Long Islanders could find out what's happening...I guess our political ...more
By Tommy27 (8), Baiting Hollow on Oct 3, 10 7:24 PM