Shinnecock Indians, Gateway Casino Resorts team up in bid for Long Island casino
BY William Sherman DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, February 28th 2010, 4:00 AM
The Shinnecock Indians and their super-rich partners have spent more than $1 million to lobby state and federal lawmakers to let them build a "world-class" casino on Long Island - possibly at Belmont Park racetrack.
The impoverished Southampton, L.I., tribe doesn't have the money for the project, but their backers and development partners, Gateway Casino Resorts, has plenty to invest.
Gateway's principals are Marion Illitch who, with her husband, owns the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and Little Caesar's national pizza chain, and wealthy gambling czar Mike Malik.
Gateway's only stated business purpose is the Shinnecock casino enterprise, and Malik has made significant contributions to politicians who could turn the plan into reality.
The casino needs the approval of the governor, the Legislature and Congress.
The partners have hired Mercury Public Affairs, whose star lobbyist is Rodney Capel, a former top official in the state Democratic Party. Capel has also worked for Sen. Chuck Schumer, Rep. Charles Rangel, and Assemblyman Herman (Denny) Farrell.
Discussions on the project, some as recent as two weeks ago, have been held with Gov. Paterson, major state leaders, Rangel, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Schumer's chief of staff, Martin Brennan, said Capel, whose firm has been paid more than $200,000.
"We're hoping to get quick resolution on a site location that's good for the state, good for the specific locality and the people there, and good for the tribe," Capel said.
Tribal leader Fred Bess said, "We're looking to build a world-class facility" which would include a full complement of table games like blackjack and poker, plus slot machines, a big hotel and Vegas-style entertainment.
A casino would be a billion-dollar jackpot for the 1,066-member tribe whose desolate reservation is near Southampton's luxurious mansions.
The Shinnecock enterprise is the latest entry in the quest for the big pot of gold - the billions New Yorkers would gamble at locations more convenient than Atlantic City or Foxwoods in Connecticut.
Two weeks ago, tribal leaders and Capel met with Paterson, state Senate president Malcolm Smith, and Sen. John Sampson in Albany, Capel said.
"We don't think getting the approvals will be that hard," said Capel.
On the federal level, Gateway has paid Wheat Government Relations, a highly influential lobbying firm, more than $1 million in the last six years.
The Shinnecocks have paid Wheat $60,000. Wheat, headed by former Rep. Alan Wheat of Missouri, declined comment.
Gateway's big money partners - Illitch and Malik - declined comment through company spokesman Tom Shields.
Last year, Malik, who lives in Detroit, contributed $2,500 to State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Elmont), whose district encompasses Belmont Park, and $5,000 to then-Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi. Two years ago, he gave Rangel $4,600
In the last three years, Malik has contributed more than $83,000 to Democratic and Republican Senate and congressional campaign committees.