By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO January 29, 2002 Late Thursday afternoon, Sullivan County and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians reached an agreement for a casino off Route 17s Exit 107 in the Town of Thompson, just east of Monticello.
But it almost didnt happen.
The tribe was insistent that they be able to build a convenience store on their land. Sullivan County legislators, looking to protect local merchants, objected, pointing out that, without having to pay taxes, the tribe would be able to sell such items as gas and cigarettes at a lower price than locals.
At the beginning of the Legislature's monthly meeting on Thursday, Clerk Steve Sharoff read into the record a letter from the New York State Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS). The letter, addressed to Legislature Chair Rusty Pomeroy and dated December 13, implored the Legislature to not allow the tribe to build a store on its land. The group represents nearly 5,000 stores and has members throughout Sullivan County.
Negotiations went on for several days to resolve the issue. Finally, late Thursday, both sides reached an agreement: the county would allow the tribe to have a convenience store, as long as certain criteria were met. The tribe agreed to collect and remit all federal, New York State, and local taxes, as well as collecting bottle redemptions. That means that the tribe cannot undersell local businesses. The tribe has also agreed to negotiate with local retailers so that their casino patrons could redeem the tribe's Points Redemption Marketing Program at local gas stations.
However, the resolution passed 7-1, with Jodi Goodman against and Chris Cunningham absent.
"They [the tribe] are coming here to do gaming," Goodman commented the next day. "When it comes to retailing, let my local people do it.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled they are coming," Goodman continued. "I was never against them. I wanted a good marriage and a good neighbor. But I was not looking to give away the store."
After the vote was taken, Pomeroy and County Attorney Ira Cohen held an impromptu press conference.
"This agreement provides for the sale of gas and convenience store items," Cohen stated. "They will submit all taxes from non-Indians."
"We did not want gas there we wanted them to just run the casino," Pomeroy remarked. "We felt it created an unfair playing field. The St. Regis Mohawks didn't want a gas station . . . [but] the Stockbridge-Munsees have agreed to be subject to the regulations. It is an easy position to support."
Later that night, the Tribal Council passed the deal as well. A signing ceremony is expected within the next week or so. Both sides seem very pleased with the agreement.
"This is a very good deal," Pomeroy said. "It is nice to see the deal done. This further establishes the bar. It tells other tribes in the future that this is the minimum we will expect.
We got the two best deals in the country. I am comfortable where we stand."
"We are very excited about the agreement between our Tribe and Sullivan County," Robert Chicks, Tribal President of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, stated in a press release. "Now that we have the strong support from the county and local community, we can move forward toward obtaining the state and federal approvals necessary to make our project a reality.
We have long sought to re-establish our ancestral roots in New York State, and now we are one step closer to making that dream come true."
The casino and ultimately a hotel will be built on approximately 333 acres on County Road 107 in Bridgeville.
The project will be divided into two phases. Both phases will feature infrastructure improvements as needed. Phase I includes a gaming facility, parking facilities, and supporting operational facilities. Phase II will consist of a hotel, additional parking facilities, expansion of the gaming facility, and other supporting operational facilities. No other details were released except that the facility will be similar to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.
The deal is akin to the one the county reached with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe for a casino at Kutsher's Sports Academy. It is a seven-year agreement that will allow the county to receive at least $15,000,000 per year. Once the tribe makes its deal with the state, the county could see that number rise to $20,000,000.
The county will divide the money among the affected municipalities. The county is currently negotiating with the Town of Thompson on what their share will be (Thompson will have separate deals with both tribes for compensation as well). Pomeroy stated that no other municipalities have been addressed, but hes confident that there is plenty of time, since any casino is still years away.
At the press conference, Pomeroy addressed the issue of other Indian casinos in the area.
"Ten would be unrealistic. I expect that we may end up with five or six, he said, then: Let me clarify: there are no current discussions going on with any other tribes."
However, the Town of Thompson is planning a trip to visit the Mohegan Sun Casino on Thursday, February 7.