- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — After months of speculation, a small Indian tribe has gone public with plans to build a 65,000-square-foot casino near the gateway to the Hamptons, the Long Island summer playground frequented by Hollywood glitterati and Manhattan elite.

But before the first quarter clangs into a slot machine, lawyers are girding for a protracted legal battle.

It began when the state Attorney General’s Office obtained a temporary restraining order barring the Shinnecock tribe from starting construction of the casino.

Despite the order issued June 29, the tribe held a groundbreaking ceremony the next day at the proposed site on land it owns in Hampton Bays. On July 1, it filed papers seeking to move the case from state to federal court. The tribe’s venue motion was granted, but the restraining order stayed in effect.

“What this is about is economic self-sufficiency,” said Lance Gumbs, a leader of the Shinnecocks. He said many of his tribe’s 1,500 members have relied on government grants for housing, education and senior care programs — funds he fears could evaporate in an economic crunch.

“This is not about becoming rich, and it is not about stockpiling money,” Mr. Gumbs said. “This is about sustaining life.”

The Shinnecocks, who say they are one of the few tribes still residing on ancestral territory, have not ruled out proceeding with construction despite the court order.

Because the state viewed the groundbreaking last week as “ceremonial,” Assistant Attorney General Denis McElligott said, “We have not yet asked a court to hold them in contempt.”

Mr. McElligott said the Shinnecocks, while recognized as a tribe by the state, have not received recognition from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs — a prerequisite for any tribe to operate a casino in the country. He also said the tribe has not sought necessary environmental permits.

A primary concern is disposal of wastewater at the site, which is between the Great Peconic Bay and Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays — the westernmost of the 35-mile series of villages known as the Hamptons.

The tribe first applied for federal recognition in 1978. After research into the tribe’s authenticity, it was placed on what is called a “ready, waiting for active consideration list” earlier this year, said Nedra Darling, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

But with 21 other tribes further along in the process, Miss Darling said recognition “is not going to happen overnight.” The process includes public comment and a review of those comments.

The BIA spokeswoman and state officials said that under the Indian Gaming Regulation Act, no Indian tribe is permitted to operate a gambling facility unless it is first recognized by the federal government.

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