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Federal Ruling Offers Fresh Hope For Indian Casino
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Federal Ruling Offers Fresh Hope For Indian Casino

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The Shinnecock Indian Nation won a significant victory this Monday as a federal appeals court dismissed the 2007 federal ruling that barred them from building a casino in Southampton. In a two to one decision, the three member panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to state court, ruling that the petitioners should re-contest their case against the Shinnecock Nation before a New York state judge.

Town versus Tribe

The Shinnecock Indian Nation is located on the east end of Long Island next to the town of Southampton. The tribe, which achieved federal recognition just two years back in October 2010, has been struggling to set up a casino on Long Island since 2003.

The Shinnecock nation first proposed the casino project nearly a decade ago as an investment that will provide jobs for thousands of people in the local Floral Park and Elmont communities.

The proposed casino is to be around 60,000 square feet of world-class gambling and entertainment. The developers claim that the project will be able to generate more than 200 million dollars in New York State and Nassau County public revenues. According to their proposal, the construction of the casino will create more than 3000 construction jobs in addition to providing nearly 6000 full-time, permanent jobs for locals and 12,000 jobs in total for the entire region once it is completed. They also promised to take the utmost care in creating a synergistic relationship with local communities, revitalizing the local economy with fresh revenue and businesses and promoting the restoration of local green spaces.

But, the proposal was greeted unfavorably by the town council of Southampton, especially after Shinnecocks decided on an 80 acre former Indian site known as Westwoods, in Hampton Bays, as the location for their casino. Subsequently, the town and the state of New York filed a suit against the Shinnecock Nation in Suffolk County Supreme Court, which alleged the proposed casino violated state and local laws and that Westwoods was not recognized “Indian lands.”

The battle was moved to a federal court in 2007. Following a bench trial, a Brooklyn federal judge gave a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, stating that the tribe was not entitled to immunity and that Shinnecock’s title to the Westwoods land had been forfeited hundreds of years ago.

2007 Ruling Dismissed Due to Invalid Jurisdiction, Shinnecock Nation Gratified

The Shinnecocks moved the battle to the federal appeals court which then reviewed the suit in detail. At the end of their study, the three-member panel ruled that even though the court case involved questions of federal Indian law, the core issues were those of state and town zoning laws and environmental and gambling regulations; and as such, a state court was the correct venue. Consequently, the prior ruling becomes null and void.

There’s no doubt that the ruling has brought fresh hope to the Shinnecock Nation’s plans for a first-rate gambling venue in Long Island. But, there is still quite a distance to be covered as it doesn’t look like both the town of Southampton and New York state are about to give in anytime soon.

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