By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The U.S. Dept. of the Interior’s (DOI’s) February 18 decision to reject the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohicans’ casino plans in Bridgeville seemed like it hinged on concerns that New York State might be “taking advantage” of the Stockbridge-Munsees via the recently signed gaming compact.
Citing a section of the compact stating that only gaming and related activities may take place at the casino site (which would become sovereign Native American territory), Deputy Assistant DOI Secretary Donald Laverdure ruled that that clause was too restrictive.
“The IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] lists provisions relating to gaming on Indian lands that may be included in a tribal-state gaming compact,” Laverdure wrote. “None of these provisions permit using a gaming compact as a means to limit the use of newly-acquired trust lands only to gaming purposes.
“The purpose of IGRA is to foster economic development opportunities for tribes and does not limit or restrict the use of Indian lands should a tribe later determine that a different use is desirable.”
Laverdure felt that approving such a compact “opens the door to areas of negotiation we believe Congress never intended under IGRA.”
The DOI also said it had not received enough information about the tribe and state’s revenue-sharing requirements.
Nor was it comfortable with its current understanding of the gaming compact’s dependency on the resolution of the tribe’s land claim with New York.
This rejection would seem to have permanently halted the Stockbridge-Munsee bid for a local casino, but as longtime observers know, the casino dream has yet to truly die in Sullivan County.
Even the tribe’s president, Kimberly Vele, apparently hasn’t given up hope.
“It is disheartening that the U.S. Department of the Interior has done an 11th-hour about-face by failing to support and finalize these agreements,” she wrote in a press statement.
“While we believe the department’s rationale is weak,” she added, “we are committed to resolving the issues.”
Whether that will be about just the land claim issues or also a casino remains uncertain.