Shinnecock Tribe Votes Not to Renew Contract

Last week, the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton held a referendum to decide whether or not to renew a contract with a firm that partners with Indian tribes in creating gambling casinos.

The contract was originally signed eight years ago at a time the tribe was on the road to seeking federal recognition, but had not yet achieved it. The Detroit firm, Gateway Casino Resorts, offered their services. At that time, because the tribe had not yet received federal recognition, it was living on their reservation in poverty. It certainly was a good idea to hire a powerful gambling casino firm to set the stage. (The law states that after seven years, any firm partnering with an Indian Tribe has to allow the tribe to retain the casino’s full and exclusive operating rights.)

For these past eight years, and in exchange for this current partnership, Gateway worked with the tribe in meeting with eager people who owned different locations where a casino could be built. Gateway also helped in providing financial support for the tribe. Also, in the contract, was a provision that said that Gateway would have the authority to make decisions about the casino project without interference from the tribe. This was in writing in the contract as a “noninterference” clause. [expand]

Since the signing of that contract, the world has changed for the Shinnecocks dramatically. In June of 2010 they received their Federal Recognition. Many levels of government support would follow. It also allowed the tribe to receive financial assistance as other tribes do, in the area of social services, medical and educational services.

Unfortunately, the recognition did not come in time to allow for the financial parts of it to go into effect for fiscal 2011. The federal budget for 2011 had already been set. The tribe would get benefits beginning in 2012—now just days away.

As it happened, this month was renewal time for the contract with Gateway. Many at the tribe felt that the contract had given away too much to Gateway. Perhaps there were other firms they could partner with, firms that would not require the tribe to give up much of their decision-making power. Also, the financial aid provided by Gateway, although appreciated, was not as urgent as it had been before with the imminent arrival of the help from the federal government.

The tribe, which is more like an extended family, discussed the matter prior to their vote on whether to renew the contract. They got an opinion about it from outside counsel, which did say they were concerned about the non-interference clause in the contract. And then, on Thursday, they voted.

The vote was 153 opposing the renewal of the pact, 121 in favor. (Keep in mind that many of the 1,400 Shinnecock members do not live on the reservation and are not eligible to vote.) The pact would be rejected.

“The nation has spoken, by consensus, as it has for thousands of years, and voted today not to finalize gaming agreements with Gateway Casino Resorts,” the tribe said in a press release.

Gateway had one of their own.

“We do respect the decision of tribal members to have further review and discussions of the new deal points. We look forward to concluding that process. We have stood by the Shinnecock Indian Nation for the last eight years, and will continue to do so and support its quest for economic justice.”

Former Shinnecock trustee Lance Gumbs told Newsday he’d voted against renewing the contract because of his concerns about losing tribal independence.

“Gateway needs to understand that they are not going to control our tribe,” he said.

The net result of this might be a delay in moving forward with a casino project as fast as they might have otherwise. The tribe will either re-negotiate with Gateway or find someone else to partner with on better terms.

The tribe has said they hope NOT to have a casino on the East End and indeed have been in negotiations only with landowners well up the island.

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