2010-01-01 / Top Stories

Indian Recognition Complicates Aqueduct Racino Decision

The development of Aqueduct Racetrack will impact the Rockaway peninsula because some of the major roads accessing the peninsula are adjacent to the racetrack site. The development of Aqueduct Racetrack will impact the Rockaway peninsula because some of the major roads accessing the peninsula are adjacent to the racetrack site. It seems that the politicians who said that the groundbreaking for the new gambling “Racino” at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park would take place before the first of the New Year were wrong.

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., for example, said in October that Governor David Paterson’s decision on which of the high-roller consortiums would get the okay to build the multimillion dollar Racino would be made long before Christmas.

That decision remains on hold.

Now, however, there is an added element to the story that might well keep Paterson from making a final decision on who will built the video gambling Racino until the federal government gives recognition to a Long Island Indian tribe. The Shinnecock Indian Nation is now one step closer to federal recognition which could pave the way for the tribe to open a full-blown Indian casino at Aqueduct, doing away with all plans for a less grand Racino.

A casino can hold all sorts of games of chance, including blackjack and craps, while a Racino can hold only video terminals that are much like slot machines. The U. S. Department of the Interior’s Indian Affairs Office of Recognition has issued a preliminary ruling that the Shinnecock should be added to the list of federally recognized tribes in the country.

In 2007, the Shinnecock Indians proposed a casino at Aqueduct, but did not get the nod, partially because the tribe did not have federal recognition and partially because local politicians such as Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer objected to the scope of the operation, calling it “too ambitious.”

Tribal officials say that their reservation, on the North Fork of Long Island, is too small for a casino, and therefore it has to look elsewhere for a site. The planned Racino was to boast a 25,000-square-foot buffet with seating for 600 diners, a steakhouse and both Italian and Asian restaurants.

In addition, plans call for a 3,000-seat area that will eventually host concerts and sports events. Officials say it would draw 20,000 people a day and generate $1 million a day in revenue for the state.

Several large consortiums have bid for the rights to build the Racino, including S.L. Green, a company in partnership with Hard Rock En ter tainment and BET founder Robert Johnson; Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which includes Queens builder Jeffrey Levin, former Congressman Floyd Flake and Darryl Greene (the latter two are close allies of State Senator Malcolm Smith); Aqueduct Gaming, which is backed by Delaware North and is a large minority-owned architectural firm; Pebbles-MGM Mirage and Penn National Gaming, which operated 19 casinos around the nation.

A spokesperson for Paterson declined to comment, saying that it is too early to comment on the Shinnecock question and that the Governor is still in the process of making a decision on who will be named to develop the Aqueduct site.

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