By Matt Youngfrau
NEW YORK STATE May 20, 2003 Last week, New York State Governor George Pataki signed a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. The MOU lays out the terms to settle the tribes land claim and sets the compact for the proposed casino at Kutshers Country Club.
While this was considered a major step forward for those looking for a casino to come to Sullivan County, there are still many hurdles that have yet to be cleared.
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 upstate 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 its 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. While the Mohawks signed the MOU, the other two had yet to see it, and it must be ratified by all three before it is approved. Likewise, the state and federal governments must also approve the agreement.
In an article in the Albany Times Union last Thursday, a United States Department of Justice official called the land claim deal announcement premature. The article quoted Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark, who sent a letter to Patakis Indian Affairs consultant, John OMara. The letter states that the United States has not agreed to fund any portion of the Mohawk land claim at this time.
Pataki spokespeople were confident it would all be worked out. The compact still has to be approved by the State Legislature and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Another hurdle is the pending lawsuit declaring the states legislation allowing Indian gaming unconstitutional. A decision in that case is expected within the next few weeks. Regardless of the outcome, an appeal is expected.
There have also been reports that the tribe may set up a temporary casino by the end of the year, similar to what was done in Niagara Falls, but that could not be confirmed. Once construction begins, a full-fledged casino wouldnt be operating for at least two years.