By Matt Youngfrau
ALBANY May 13, 2003 One of the biggest obstacles to getting a casino in Sullivan County was cleared yesterday when New York State Governor George Pataki signed a compact with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.
The compact was part of a larger deal reached between the tribe and the governor about a longstanding land claim.
The gaming compact allows the Mohawks to open their proposed casino with Park Place Entertainment at Kutshers Sports Academy in Monticello and to add slot machines to their Akwesasne Casino in St. Regis. In return, the state would receive a fifth of the revenue from slot machines at the new casino (that percentage would rise to one-fourth in four years), which accounts for at least $100 million a year.
Also part of the land claim, the Mohawks would receive approximately $100 million over 35 years from the state and federal governments. That is compensation for the tribes land claim of approximately 15,000 acres near the Canadian border that has been disputed for more than 200 years.
Other terms include the state and federal government paying $30 million to the tribe over five years. The New York Power Authority will pay the tribe another $70 million for 35 years. This will allow the Mohawks to take claim to more than 7,000 acres of land. The Power Authority will give the tribe the islands of Long Sault and Croil and 95 acres near the Canadian border, all on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The tribe agreed to collect and retain taxes equivalent to what the state and federal taxes on their lands would be for non-Indians. Items taxed will include gas, cigarettes, alcohol, and hotel rooms.
Along with the Mohawks, there are two other Indian tribes that are a part of this land claim suit. The deal was signed in Albany yesterday afternoon, according to the governors office.
County Attorney Ira Cohen was also contacted over the weekend by Mohawk attorney Brad Waterman to inform him that the deal was to be signed yesterday.
United States Senator Charles Schumer released a press release on the subject last week. Schumer, who is in full support of the agreement, met with the tribe last Thursday, and told them that once the agreement is signed with the governor, he would do all he could to push it through on the federal level.
However, there is pending litigation against the state law allowing casinos. The attorney handling the case, Neil Murray, stated that if the compact is signed, he will challenge it. The last lawsuit the anti-casino forces won states that any agreement must also be approved by the State Legislature.
Since the compact is now signed, it brings the local casino project at least at Kutshers one step closer to fruition. Still needed are approvals from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the settlement of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law allowing the casinos.
If ground is broken, it would take two years to build the $5 million project.
More information on this developing issue will appear in Fridays issue of the Sullivan County Democrat.