By Nathan Mayberg
ALBANY June 14, 2005 New York State Governor George Pataki submitted new legislation last week which would allow the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to build a casino in the Town of Thompson.
The tribe currently has plans for a casino at the site of Kutshers Sports Academy on Anawana Lake Road, north of Monticello.
The new bill is being opposed by New York State Senator John Bonacic (a Republican), who released a statement on Friday.
Bonacic said the legislation does not directly address the regional casino impact fund the governor offered in his prior bill. Instead, it promises future legislation on that subject. The promise of future legislation, however well intentioned, to be negotiated at some future undetermined date, does not serve the interests of my Senate District and the region. For that reason, I am recommending that the County of Sullivan oppose the legislation in its present form.
Our local education, health care, housing, criminal justice, emergency services, transportation, and environment will all be tested by even one casino. I want to make sure the region is protected. There is no reason the Catskill fund cannot be included in the current legislation, and I look forward to working with the governor, Majority Leader [Joseph Bruno] and Speaker [Sheldon Silver] to make that happen.
Pataki, on the other hand, was pushing for quick passage.
With only a handful of session days remaining in the current legislative session, fairness to the Akwesasne Mohawks [which includes the St. Regis Mohawks] and other affected parties dictates that we immediately move forward with this important legislation to approve the settlement agreement, said Pataki in a release.
The Mohawk land claim settlement would effectively end decades of litigation in a fair and comprehensive manner that protects the interests of local governments, landowners and taxpayers in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.
The legislation does not include the four other tribes which were part of the five-casino deal that collapsed earlier in the year. Those agreements are currently being renegotiated due to a United States Supreme Court ruling (City of Sherill vs. Oneida Indian Nation of New York), which was a blow to the sovereignty of Native American-owned property.
The governor does not believe the agreement with the Akwesasne Mohawks will be affected by the case.
If the land claim agreement is approved by the State Legislature and the United States Congress, the tribe could build its casino. One of the requirements under Section 17 is that the tribe agree to pay all state and local taxes for most non-gaming related sales. That includes alcoholic beverages, tobacco, hotel occupancy and all other retail, tangible personal property and services.
However, in a prior paragraph, the legislation reads, An agent who is a licensed wholesale dealer under this article may sell cigarettes exempt from the tax imposed under this article to the extent authorized by Section 17 of this chapter.
No mention is made of the details of any agreement between the state and the tribe over revenue from electronic gaming devices in Sullivan County. However, an arrangement is expected, though Sullivan County has never been guaranteed a portion of the revenue from the operations of the casino. The county would be held harmless against any property lost to the tribe, as per its assessed value as of January 2005.
But beginning in 2008, for as long as the Town of Thompson would host a casino operated by the Mohawks, the counties of St. Lawrence and Franklin would receive an annual payment of $4 million.
In contrast, the new legislation once again guarantees the municipalities in Erie or Niagara counties, which house casinos, a minimum of 25 percent of the negotiated percentage of the net drop from electronic gaming devices the state receives pursuant to the compact and provided further that for any gaming facility located in the county or counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua or Allegany, the municipal governments of the state hosting the facility shall collectively receive a minimum of 15 percent of the negotiated percentage of the net drop from electronic gaming devices.
The bill also requires a local service agreement with the county. Sullivan County currently has a $15 million-per-year agreement with the tribe to cover all related infrastructure costs. The Town of Thompson, the host municipality, would receive $1.65 million of the total fee.
Other provisions include protections for unions to organize inside the casino, as well as work protection rights.
Also in 2008, the state would pay the Akwesasne Mohawks $30 million and the Power Authority would pay $2 million a year for 35 years to settle the land claims.
The land claims agreement would also allow for the tribe to purchase up to 7,000 acres of land from willing sellers and become sovereign Indian Country. In addition, 6,400 acres could be purchased with the consent of the county and town where the property is located.
The Power Authority would convey the Long Sault and Croil islands as well as 215 acres of land called the Massena Point East Parcel.