By Nathan Mayberg
ALBANY June 24, 2005 The prospects for a casino in Monticello received a major boost on Tuesday, after the New York State Assembly passed a bill approving the land claims settlement between Governor George Pataki and The Akwesasne Mohawks. The bill was sponsored by New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.
The agreement will allow the St. Regis Mohawks (A faction of the Akwesasnes) to build a casino in the Catskills, as per a 2001 bill passed by the State Legislature.
The tribe has plans to build a casino at the current site of Kutshers Sports Academy on Anawana Lake Road in Monticello. Those plans were approved last year by the Town of Thompson Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.
But the Assembly is only one group of several that has to sign off on this and, as always in the world of casinos, nothing is for certain.
The New York State Senate has yet to act on the bill passed by the Assembly. If the Senate approves the governors bill, the tribes settlement would still require approval from the United States Congress.
According to New York State Senator John Bonacic on Wednesday, the Senate was in the midst of a stalemate over whether to pass a bill for one casino or three casinos in Sullivan County. A major sticking point for Bonacic was whether there will be a community fund for the county as part of the legislation. Bonacic said a vote could be held on the issue either late Thursday or today.
New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is proposing to pass a bill which would ratify agreements with the Oneidas of Wisconsin and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans for casinos in Sullivan County.
Pataki continued to state, as of Wednesday, that he would veto any bill approving casinos or land claim settlements with any tribes except the Mohawks.
Pataki has only agreed to terms with the Mohawks. He withdrew his agreements with four other tribes earlier this year, in light of a United States Supreme Court case and a lack of support in the Assembly.
Gunther said she supported the bill for its worker protection rights and labor agreements. The county would receive sales tax revenue from much of the non-gaming revenue at the casino, as well as hotel taxes.
The assemblywoman estimated that the casino construction would produce 2,000 construction jobs and another 2,000 permanent jobs.
One of the problems a Mohawk casino would have is its site off of Route 42 in the Kiamesha Corridor. That section is currently the source of heavy traffic, particularly during the summer. Gunther said the New York State Department of Transportation has plans to widen a portion of Route 42 by next spring.
The governors and Assemblys bill currently lacks a community fund for Sullivan County. Pataki had proposed a $50 million fund to protect open space in his original five-casino bill. Bonacic would like that same fund to extend to infrastructure costs, housing, education, health care and emergency services for the one casino or two or three.
The senator said on Wednesday that he was able to put language into Brunos bill which would set up a community fund for the county, taken from the revenues the state generates from the casinos electronic gaming devices.
$15 million is not enough, said Bonacic in reference to the agreement the Mohawks have with the county to cover potential impacts. The Seneca-Cayugas offered Saugerties $30 million a year for twenty years.
Bonacic and Bruno have been scrutinized for conflicts of interest in relation to the Oneidas of Wisconsin. That tribe is pushing for a casino in the Town of Mamakating. This week, Bruno was proposing to include them in the casino bill. Brunos son is a lobbyist for the tribe. Bonacics son works part-time as an attorney for Malkin and Ross, who represent the tribe locally.
The labor presence was heavy at the capital this week, according to Bonacic. The senator said that labor leaders such as Todd Diorio, president of the Hudson Valley Building Trades Council, were busy lobbying legislators through the long session.
Diorio has previously stated that he has agreements in principle with the Mohawks for the construction of their facility. Although the union includes some workers in Sullivan County, most of its workforce is located downstate.
In addition, local politicians such as Town of Mamakating Supervisor Charles Penna and Linda Cellini, wife of Town of Thompson Supervisor Anthony Cellini, were in Albany.
The Sullivan County Legislature has been sending letters to the State Legislature reminding them of its support for five casinos. Earlier this year, the County Legislature voted 6-3 in favor of five casinos.