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Dan Hust | Democrat

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and New York State Governor David Patterson flank Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe President Kimberly Vele, during a casino announcement held Monday, at the Sullivan County Government Center, during the casino conference. The Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe is one of many who have shown interest in building a casino within Sullivan County.

Excitement, but no casino deal quite yet

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — November 26, 2010 — Governor David Paterson was blunt at Monday’s land compact announcement in Monticello:
“You’ve heard this song before,” he told a packed meeting room at the Government Center, just before signing an agreement with the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe that settles long-standing land claims and paves the way for a casino to be built in Bridgeville.
But as county residents well know, officials have been here, done that several times over – with no casino to show for it.
“So you might wonder,” the governor anticipated, “what makes this different?”
According to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, this new deal allows the tribe to bypass Congress and deal directly with the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, which is basically only Secretary Ken Salazar’s signature away from approving the tribe’s taking of land into trust along Route 17’s Exit 107.
It’s “a new and novel pathway to building a casino right here in Sullivan County,” Schumer opined. “... We’re here to say the great days of the Catskills can return and become reality once again.”
Possible? Yes. Sure bet? No.
Tribal President Kimberly Vele even admitted that the Stockbridge-Munsees have yet to secure all the necessary development financing.
But there was hardly a word of skepticism voiced by the politicos gathered ’round the governor’s podium at Monday’s press conference.
“This is a major step towards the establishment of a world-class resort,” Congressman Maurice Hinchey remarked, vowing – like Schumer – to push the matter forward.
“As a resident of Sullivan County,” added Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, “we’re all ready to climb this mountain.”
Perhaps not all – locals remain divided over the issue, and other tribes and environmental groups are apparently lining up to sue.
Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development Board Chairman Josh Sommers, however, said this casino is exactly what the county needs right now.
“Our economy has been on life support for way too long,” Sommers told the crowd. “... It can be the instant shot of adrenaline we very desperately need.”
Same for the state, said Paterson.
“We’ve got a $9 billion deficit,” he assessed. “... We are in a revenue crisis.”
Yet the state apparently has enough money to aid Empire Resorts in a $100 million expansion of the Monticello Casino and Raceway, which could be hurt by the nearby presence of a full-fledged casino.
The expansion will include enlarging the gaming offerings at the racino, which has struggled against in-state and out-of-state competition.
Meanwhile, the pressure is now on the Dept. of the Interior to allow a Wisconsin-based tribe to return to its geographical roots and build a local casino.
“Our message to the Dept. of the Interior is simple,” said Schumer. “Just say ‘yes.’”

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