Thursday, December 22, 2011

Shinnecock Coalition for Answers Wants Class-II Gaming now on Southampton Reservation; Independent Counsel Examining Pacts with Gateway Casino Resorts


Now that factions of the Shinnecock Indian Nation voted to block approval of gaming pacts with the tribe's Detroit backers, some on the Southampton reservation are making the strongest push yet to begin class-II gaming such as bingo.

The Shinnecocks' formal efforts in gaming thus far have focused on large-scale casinos with table games such as blackjack and poker -- casinos that require a state compact and layers of federal approval. Those ambitions are still years away.

But small-scale class-II gaming efforts such as bingo halls could take place on the reservation now, one former tribal leader said. He's one of many members urging Shinnecock leaders to use the tribe's federally recognized status to reconsider low-level gaming immediately.

"It's ridiculous that we would sit and wait another three to five years for gaming to come, when we could be doing small-scale gaming now," said Lance Gumbs, a former tribal trustee who is part of a group called the Shinnecock Coalition for Answers that last week championed the vote to block pacts with Gateway Casino Resorts.

Gumbs said he envisions a simple, even temporary structure erected on the tribal Powwow grounds in the center of the reservation for a bingo parlor. "We're talking about what the church is doing down the street," he said.

But Randy King, chairman of the tribal trustees, the Shinnecock's official government, said the tribe would continue on its course for larger-scale, class-III gaming.

"The current plan is to discuss alternative locations west of the reservation in more suitable areas," he said of the tribe's plans for casinos at Belmont Park and in Yaphank, among others. "We hope to discuss all of this with the governor's office shortly."

Tribal leaders have worked out arrangements with local politicians to keep gaming west of County Road 105 near Westhampton, with the promise of political support. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) is among those party to the agreement.

"Congressman Bishop calls on the Shinnecock Nation to consult with the Southampton Town Board and other local government entities if they reach the decision as a tribe to pursue a Class II gaming facility such as a bingo hall on the reservation," said Bishop spokesman Oliver Longwell.

Eagerness to start some sort of gaming has reached such a level that the tribe was forced to issue a cease and desist letter to shop owners who attempted to open Internet gaming cafes on the reservation last month, several sources close to the tribe said.

On a higher level, the push for a tribal bingo parlor is a sign of impatience with the pace of economic progress on the cash-strapped reservation, and a push for broader participation in decision making.

On Monday night, the Shinnecock tribal council, an advisory body which has retained a private law firm to review the contracts with Gateway Casino Resorts that were voted down last week, met to discuss concerns about that vote.

Among them: that 1,100 Shinnecock members who do not live on the reservation were prevented from voting; only 36 hours' notice was given before the vote; and what the long-term implications of the vote itself were, according to a person who attended.

King said the trustees won't discuss or negotiate such internal tribal matters in the media.

Beverly Jensen, a spokeswoman for the tribe, said she believed last week's vote and the need for future discussions were part of the tribe's evolution now that federal recognition is in place.

"It's about the birth of a nation, for real," she said.

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