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Anti-Gambling Casino Ad Stirs Local Response

By John Emerson
MONTICELLO — April 18, 2000 -- A recent full-page ad in the Sullivan County Democrat claiming that an Indian casino at Monticello Raceway could cost jobs, bankrupt local businesses and create tax increases has town, village and development officials fuming.
The advertisement, placed by a group calling itself the Tri-County Concerned Small Business People, was the topic of a news conference Friday morning at Monticello Village Hall. The purpose of the news conference, according to Mayor Gary Sommers and Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, was to make certain the public understands the agreement between the municipalities involved, the St. Regis Mohawk tribe and Catskill Development, the tribe’s partner in building and managing the casino.
“We’re forced into doing damage control over and over because of this stuff,” said Philip Berman, one of the main figures in Catskill Development. “Where do you think this stuff is coming from? Atlantic City and Trump.”
Calling the ad “only the tip of the iceberg” of what’s to come, Sommers said the advertisement was totally wrong and handed out copies of the cooperation agreement between the tribe, Catskill Development and the village to prove his point. He said the agreement, which was part of the application for federal approval, was legally binding on both the developers and the tribe.
“One of the most important things in here is that the tribe waived its sovereignty,” Sommers said. “This is totally enforceable in court.”
Because they are sovereign nations, Indian tribes normally cannot be sued by individuals or governments for wrongdoing. In the agreement, the tribe specifically agrees that if the agreement is breached they can be taken to court so the agreement can be enforced.
The agreement calls for the establishment of a Community Develop-ment Fund, which is overseen by a seven-member board. As soon as they break ground for the casino, annual payments of $5 million will be placed in the fund to mitigate negative impacts to the community. Specific payments under the agreement will be made to the Village of Monticello, the Town of Thompson, Sullivan County, operators of charitable bingo games, the Crawford Library and the schools.
Those outlays will equal about half of the overall $5 million payment, with the remainder available to other groups or as additional compensation if the impact of the casino is greater than anticipated.
The additional payments will be made following a decision by the fund’s management board.
The board itself is comprised of two representatives from the tribe, one representative from Catskill Development, the mayor of Monticello, the Thompson supervisor, a representative appointed by the Sullivan County Legislature and an additional representative from Monticello.
In addition to establishing the fund, the agreement also prohibits the casino from building and operating a hotel. It also prohibits the sale of package liquor and cartons of cigarettes. The casino would be able to sell alcoholic drinks by the glass for consumption on premises and tobacco products by the pack from a single location within the casino.
Assemblyman Jake Gunther, whose name and a pending legislative bill were prominently used in the anti-gambling ad to support the advertisers’ point of view, could not be reached for comment.

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