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Shinnecock Tribe to Gamble on State Court Casino Approval

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 26, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Could Southampton get a casino after all?

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the battle over a new Native American casino should be handled in state court, not federal court, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Shinnecock Indian Nation began construction of a 61,000-square-foot casino on a Southampton plot known as Westwoods in 2003. The same year, the State of New York, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, and the New York State Department Of Environmental Conservation, (together, the State), sued the Tribe in New York State Supreme Court to stop the construction.

The State alleged that the planned casino violated state law, and fell outside the scope of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act -- a federal act that authorizes tribal gaming under certain conditions -- because the Tribe was not federally recognized and Westwoods did not qualify as "Indian lands."

(The Shinnecock Indian Nation became a federally-recognized tribe in 2010, Reuters reports.)

The Shinnecock removed the case to federal court on the grounds that the State was pleading issues of federal law. In its answer to the complaint, the Tribe admitted that it had not obtained permits from the State of New York or the Town of Southampton. It asserted, however, that on the basis of federal Indian law, neither the State nor the Town has the power to regulate activities at Westwoods because the Tribe has aboriginal title to the land.

The district court didn't turn out to be a sympathetic venue for the Tribe. A Brooklyn federal judge ruled in 2008 that the Shinnecock title to the Westwoods land had been forfeited hundreds of years ago, so the Tribe was not immune from building regulations on the land, according to Reuters.

This week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals offered the Tribe another chance in the case, finding that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the action, and vacating the district court's judgment.

Regardless of the state court result, it's unlikely that Southampton residents will have a Native American casino in their backyard any time soon. In the decade since the case began, the Shinnecock decided that they no longer want to build a casino at Westwoods. They're instead considering sites farther west on Long Island, reports The Wall Street Journal.

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