Dan Rattiner's Stories

Casino Plans

Late last year, Shinnecock Gaming Authority member Phil Brown said it would be most prudent to create one casino close to New York City (perhaps in Nassau County), possibly another large casino capable of providing high end entertainment as well as gaming in western Suffolk, and lastly a “Monte Carlo”-type casino (with bingo and slot machines) “near our homelands in Southampton.”

Well, phase one of that plan is coming closer to fruition. The Shinnecock Indian Nation, a tribe that the Town of Southampton founders negotiated with in 1640, presented a very telling proposal for phase one: the casino and hotel complex in Nassau County at Belmont Raceway.

It was presented to representatives of the many neighborhoods surrounding the third leg of the horse racing’s Triple Crown venue. Their pitch was that the project will add jobs and breathe life into the area and facility. In the center of the plan is a hotel with 400 to 600 rooms located next to the historic racetrack, at about the same height as the present Belmont track grandstand. Also included in the presentation were plans to refurbish and modernize the racetrack, specifically the grandstand. [expand]

They also unveiled their ideas for the most controversial part of the plan: the casino. According to the plan, the first Shinnecock Casino will stand on the 40-acre parking lot. To offset the use of the present parking for the casino location, a sophisticated high-rise parking lot design was presented as well.

The overall income of the Native American casino industry in the United States was $12.8 billion in 2001, and jumped to $22.5 billion by the end of 2005. By 2009, even with the economic downturn and other financial crises, tribal-owned casinos still took in $26.8 billion. As for this year, looking at Foxwoods in nearby Connecticut, June 2011 slot revenue was $51 million, the same as June 2010, despite a modest decline in total handle (which was down 3% to $616.4 million from the $636.9 million reported last year.)

However, after tumbling during the recession, gaming revenue should return to 2007 levels by the end of 2012, according to a recent report by national accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. This news may mean that the timing is just perfect for the Shinnecock Nation’s first venture into building a casino. However, the group must still obtain approval from numerous state and federal departments before it can move forward. Good news!

Sandra Smith, chairwoman for the Belmont Coalition for Sustainable Development, reportedly said that her impression of the response to the plan so far has been “very positive.” She said that “everything they had in the plan are things we’ve been trying to do, it was really phenomenal.” The presentation was made by tribal gaming authority members and officials from the tribe’s development partner, Gateway Casino Resorts of Detroit.

One of the key players in Gateway is Marian Illitch (founder of Gateway Casino Resorts LLC), whose husband Mike founded Little Caesars Pizza and now owns the Detroit Tigers baseball team and the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. Marian Illitch supported the Shinnecocks during their efforts to gain federal recognition last year. She also helped the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and the Cuperio Indians develop casinos in Barstow, California.

Another part of the presentation was a pledge to renovate the Long Island Rail Road station near the track. There is also the hope of increased train service to the site.

The bottom line is that the drumbeat of the coming Shinnecock Casino is getting louder and stronger. Given Marian Illitch’s skill and success at navigating through local and federal government regulations, it is only a matter of time before something rises in the form of a Shinnecock Casino on Long Island. Afterwards one can only guess how the Shinnecock Nation will use its new wealth on the reservation in Southampton. There is no doubt that by the end of the decade, this local tribe’s influence on the East End will be very different than it is today. [/expand]

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