Feds Approve Casino
By John Emerson
MONTICELLO April 11, 2000 -- The news raced through Sullivan County like a prairie wildfire late Thursday afternoon: the federal government had finally approved the St. Regis Mohawk casino at Monticello Raceway.
By Friday morning, the news crews from New York City, Albany and other locations were busy arranging appointments with local government officials so the story could appear on television. In most cases, they had to ask how to get to Monticello and how long it would take.
I spent almost the whole day talking with reporters about this on Friday, said Assemblyman Jake Gunther. Its very exciting and has the potential to change the face of Sullivan County in a very positive way. I cant give my full approval yet until I know what the agreement is that is worked out with the governor, but I believe the concept of an Indian casino is valid and can potentially be very good economically for the county. Its been a long wait waiting for the federal approval.
Gunther was not the only official subjected to the glare of New York City media. Throughout the day, camera crews from most of the New York City television stations wandered about the village, looking for anyone who was willing to comment on the news. Legislature Chairman Rusty Pomeroy was featured on a CBS broadcast, and Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini appeared on Fox as well as WRBG in Schenectady.
Now that the federal Department of the Interior has given the casino its blessings, the decision on whether it will be built rests with Governor George Pataki. Under federal regulations, Pataki must give his approval for the casino before the land is taken into trust for the St. Regis Mohawk tribe.
Although the regulations do not require additional approvals other than from the governor, about three weeks ago Pataki presented a bill that would share the responsibility with the state legislature.
The proposed law, if enacted, would require the approval of both the Assembly and the Senate and a public referendum in the county where the casino would be located before the governor could approve a land trust casino. Thus far, that bill has not been introduced in either the Senate or the Assembly, and Senate leaders say they will not even bring the bill to the floor for introduction.
It will be interesting to see if [Pataki] starts to steer [Senate Majority Leader Joseph] Bruno into approving his program bill, Gunther said of what must now happen. Whatever happens [with the bill], Im going to make sure that my input gets to the governor. One of the things that I think the agreement has to have in it before it is approved is that the tribe has to guarantee that the track will stay open. I think that must be in the agreement, along with payments for impact on the infrastructure and increased expenses of local government.
Officials from Catskill Development, who are partnered with the tribe for the proposed casino, declined comment on the federal approval.