Cayugas May Want A Piece of Casino Pie
By John Emerson
MONTICELLO May 16, 2000 -- Officials at Catskill Development are not saying anything except that they are exploring all of their options relating to the desertion of the St. Regis Mohawks, but it appears that exploratory talks are underway with a third tribe that could benefit from a casino at Monticello Raceway.
Sources both inside and outside the track said officials from Catskill Development and Alpha Hospitality, the company that was scheduled to manage the St. Regis Mohawk casino for the first several years, met recently with leaders of yet another tribe. Although specific information on the talks was not available, the group of 15 tribal leaders were given a tour of the track and briefed on plans for the casino. The sources said they believed the Indians were members of the Cayuga Tribe.
Cliff Ehrlich, president of Monticello Raceway and associated with Catskill Development, refused to even acknowledge the meetings with another group of Indians.
The move to a new Indian partner for Catskill Development and Alpha Hospitality, if that is what is being discussed, would mean that the planned original site of the casino, approximately 30 acres of land at the raceway, is still viable. Officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs have already announced that, because they have already issued their approval for the site, a change in the tribe would be a relatively minor change in the application and could be processed very quickly perhaps within two months.
BIA officials have also said that processing an application for a new site, such as the one proposed by Park Place Entertainments Arthur Goldberg for a major hotel and resort casino at Kutshers Country Club, would take at least three to four years.
Local officials and area business people have also made it clear that they are not ready to support a proposal for a casino at any location other than the raceway.
Last month, the BIA and the Department of the Interior issued their determination that the raceway location and the development of an Indian gaming casino at that site would benefit the St. Regis Mohawks and not be detrimental to the village, town or county. The determination meant that the only remaining approval for the casino rested with Governor George Pataki, who must agree with the BIA and the Department of the Interior before the land can be taken into trust for the benefit of the tribe.
The federal announcement was followed by a statement from Park Place Entertainment, the largest gaming company in the world, that the St. Regis Mohawks had agreed to turn over the management and development of a Catskills casino to Park Place, eliminating Catskill Development and Alpha Hospitality from the picture. The agreement between Park Place and the St. Regis Mohawk chiefs muddied the waters on whether the casino would ever be built.
A dissident group of tribal leaders have filed a $12 billion lawsuit against Park Place and Goldberg, claiming the new agreement was fraudulently obtained. Several of those who filed the lawsuit are running in next months tribal elections for positions on the tribal council, the tribes governing body.
Things may change once again if the dissidents are elected and given the opportunity to renew the tribes original agreement with Catskill Development, because until Pataki takes action, that is the pending application.