By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO November 16, 2004 A landmark deal involving Empire Resorts, Governor George Pataki, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and Concord Associates LP has been completed, and its poised to alter the entire landscape of gambling in Sullivan County.
Pataki announced late last week that he had reached an agreement with the Seneca-Cayugas to settle their land claim, develop a Class III gaming facility in the Catskills, and allow for the collection of local and state sales taxes, retail goods and services sold by the tribe. The agreement remains to be approved by the United States Congress and the New York State Legislature.
In return, the tribe agreed to terminate litigation with the State of New York, give up its share of the $247.9 million dollar judgment it obtained jointly with the Cayuga Indian Nation in February 2002, and indemnified the state for the amount of any final monetary judgment awarded pursuant to the land claim litigation, up to $350 million.
The agreement put the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma ahead of the other Native American tribes attempting to build a casino in the Catskills.
Yesterday, the lead stretched even farther, as potential casino partner Empire Resorts announced that it has acquired the two largest and most famous resorts in the Catskills, the Concord and Grossingers.
Concord Associates LP and an affiliate dealt away the properties and their famous golf courses in exchange for 18 million shares of Empire Resorts. The deal gives Concord Associates a 40 percent stake in Empire Resorts, the parent company of the Monticello Raceway.
Empire Resorts currently has a deal to build a $500 million casino at the raceway with the Cayuga Nation of New York, which expires in December. The state rejected the Cayugas offer for settlement in August. However, Morad Tahbaz, president of Empire Resorts, who led the negotiations with Concord Associates, said the Cayugas were still negotiating with the state. He said it remains a possibility that a casino could be built next to the Monticello Racway.
That leaves the door open as to whether Empire Resorts will allow their agreement with the Cayugas to expire in December and hook up with the Seneca-Cayuga tribe for a casino at the raceway or instead, opt to build a casino at the Concord.
The Seneca-Cayuga deal expires in August 2005.
Empire Resorts is currently mulling plans for redeveloping the Concord Hotel.
The best is yet to come, said Empire Resorts Vice President Charlie Degliomini.
Said Pataki, "This agreement between the state and tribe represents the ending of an historic dispute between the state and tribe and the beginning of a new partnership to create jobs and economic growth for the Catskills region. Now, we are asking the Legislature and Congress to move this process forward. . . . The agreement allows us to move forward with plans to establish the first of three new casinos in the Catskills, which would create thousands of new jobs and provide a tremendous boost to the region's economy. . . . Our agreement will also provide for the collection and remittance of state and local sales and excise taxes on products sold by the tribe, which demonstrates that we can resolve the tax collection issue with the Indian nations in a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation."
Seneca-Cayuga Chief LeRoy Howard said, The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe is pleased with our new partnership with the State of New York and that a quarter-century of litigation has been resolved in a fashion that will benefit future generations of the tribe. . . . We thank Governor Pataki for his commitment to this settlement and look forward to a long-standing partnership with the State of New York.
The agreement follows the proposal by the tribe made in late August after the state rejected an offer by the Cayuga Nation of New York.
The arrangement will become effective once state and federal legislation implements the settlements provisions.
If approved, the implementation would end the tribes role in 25 years of litigation against the state and its land claims, which date back to the 18th century.
Empire Resorts CEO Robert Berman said, "We are extremely pleased to be part of a new economic engine that will spark growth in Sullivan County. This consolidation represents the beginning of a new partnership to develop a number of Native American casinos and destination resorts, and we look forward to becoming a significant force in the resurgence of the Catskills region, by creating thousands of new hotel rooms and jobs for the local tourism industry."