By Matt Youngfrau
SULLIVAN COUNTY February 26, 2002 Sullivan County has two casino agreements in place. Once the casinos are operational, the county will receive $15 million a year for seven years from both the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.
But it may be a long time before the county sees that money.
While both tribes seem close to federal approval, several hurdles must be cleared before construction even begins. Both tribes have filed Land-to-Trust Applications with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Approvals on both applications are expected by year's end. Also, both tribes need to make deals with New York State Governor George Pataki before they can go forward.
And theres more. A few weeks ago, two separate lawsuits were filed to declare the gambling legislation unconstitutional. Last year, on October 31, the governor signed legislation that called for three casinos in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area, three casinos in Sullivan and/or Ulster County, Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) at Monticello, Aqueduct, Finger Lakes, Yonkers, and Vernon Down Racetracks, and the State's participation in the Powerball Lottery.
No matter the court's decision, appeals are expected. It has been estimated that this issue could be tied up in the court system for at least two years. Until that is settled, neither casino could begin construction, even with their other approvals in place.
Another issue that needs to be settled is Indian land claims. Many Indian tribes have land claim lawsuits pending, as they argue their land was taken from them illegally by European settlers. The governor has stated that no casino deals will be reached until that particular tribe's land claim issue is settled.
Last week, the news came out that the Oneida Nation of New York had reached a tentative agreement with the governor on their land claim. While the tribe has no deal or a location in Sullivan or Ulster County, it could greatly change the casino landscape. Rumors persist that the Oneidas have looked for land in the area at such locations as the Concord, the Nevele, and Monticello Raceway.
While it appeared a done deal for the Oneidas to settle their 250,000-acre land claim, trouble has arisen. The New York Oneidas cut the deal without consulting two other Oneida factions, one in Wisconsin and one in Canada. Both want their own land claim settled, and the Wisconsin group has been looking in the region to build a casino. They are set to file several lawsuits to block the New York Oneida deal.
The St. Regis Mohawks are considering a land claim settlement of their own. If that happens, they would have a decided advantage in the casino race.
There is no word on the status of the Stockbridge-Munsee land claim.
Locally, many municipalities have been concerned about their piece of the annual casino payments. None are sure how much they will get or how it will be divided.
In his annual State of the County address on Tuesday, February 19, Sullivan County Legislature Chair Rusty Pomeroy announced the formation of the Casino Gaming Revenue Disbursement Committee. The resolution to form the committee will be introduced at the next Executive Committee meeting on Thursday, March 14. Legislator Bob Kunis will chair that committee, if approved.
While all this is going on, other Indian tribes continue to look at land in both Sullivan and Ulster counties. While there is only state approval for three casinos in the area, other approvals could theoretically be granted.
Once the dust settles, it will still take time to construct the current two casinos. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe say it will take two years for them, while the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe claim it will take them less than a year to construct their casino. Until the casinos are operational, the county receives no money.
The way this is going, it could be at least five years before the county financially benefits from the casinos. While everyone waits, developments will continue to happen and the future of local casinos will continue to evolve.