By Nathan Mayberg
Monticello November 08, 2005 Members of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe are looking to join with Empire Resorts, operators of the Monticello Raceway, in a new bid to win approval for a casino.
The decision means the St. Regis Mohawks plans to open a casino at Kutshers Sports Academy have been put to pasture.
According to Brendan White, a spokesman for the tribe, a majority of the chiefs approved switching allegiances back to the raceway, which they formerly had an agreement with in 2000. White said the tribal council believed they could gain federal approval for a casino easier with Empire Resorts.
Chief Jim Ransom reportedly objected to the move away from the site of Kutshers, but he did not return calls for comment. Mark Kutsher, co-owner of Kutshers Resort, is away on vacation and could not be contacted for comment. Charles Degliomini, spokesman for Empire Resorts, declined to comment.
Tribal representatives, Monticello Raceway representatives and casino supporters traveled to Albany for a press conference yesterday on their plans for the raceway casino.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs made a two-part determination in 2000, which found no significant environmental impacts on the community as a result of a casino being built at the raceway.
The tribe is now requesting New York State Governor George Pataki give his stamp of approval on the departments determination. The state legislature would also need to vote on the matter, according to a statement from the tribe.
White said he wasnt sure of which other approvals the tribe would need. He said chiefs Barbara Lazore and Lorraine White were the most supportive of the new development.
In the public statement, the tribe said they did not need approval from the state legislature on a proposed land claims settlement with the state, which stalled this year, along with a bill to allow for five casinos in the region, but they did say the senate must vote on the determination as well.
Patakis office had a host of questions they said would need to be answered before they could respond.
On Friday, the governor, through his senior assistant counsel Greg Allen, wrote a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Gaming Commission, seeking guidance on those questions while reiterating the Governors support for gaming in the Catskills.
Allen said the governor received written correspondence from the tribe stating that it was withdrawing its application for the 66-acre site at Kutshers Sports Academy.
His questions to the departments were:
Has the department completed its review of the Raceway site?
Does the department consider its 2000 determination on the Raceway to be of continuing validity and subject to concurrence by the governor?
Would such concurrence be the last step in the process before the secretary takes the raceway into trust status?
IS there any further review necessary by the department or other federal agencies, and what is the timeframe for their completion?
Pataki spokesman Saleem Cheeks said he was not sure of what other approvals would be necessary, aside from the governors. The state legislature already passed a bill in 2001, authorizing three casinos in the Catskills.
A statement by Town of Thompson Supervisor Anthony Cellini, released by the St. Regis Mohawk tribe, reaffirmed his support for the tribes plans for a casino, which he believes will spur economic development.
According to the tribe, a casino would generate more than $1 billion dollars in direct revenue to the state over 10 years, and more than $100 million to the county.
The tribe stated that a casino at the Raceway would create up to 5,000 permanent jobs, more than 2,000 construction jobs, and bring millions of visitors a year to the area.
Opponents of the casino as well as county department heads have argued that the tribes proposed mitigation payments would not cover the cost to build new schools, improve roads, a prison and other impacts to the local infrastructure.
The tribe has a $15 million a year mitigation agreement already in place relating to its plans to build a casino at Kutshers, but it is unclear as to whether that would relate to their new plans.