Mohawks Plan New Casinos in Catskills

HOGANSBURG -- The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council could have two casinos in the Catskills' Sullivan County.

The tribe revived in August its original proposal for a casino at the Monticello Racetrack, which it had abandoned in 2000.

The tribe's Monticello project deal with Empire Resorts was approved in 2000 by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. All it needed was gubernatorial approval to proceed. But, shortly after BIA approval, the tribe opted for a casino project 3 miles away in Thompson, with Park Place Entertainment, which was bought by Harris Gaming.

The Thompson proposal is stalled in the state Senate as part of a Mohawk land claim bill that is supported by Gov. George E. Pataki and was approved by the state Assembly in June. Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Troy, opposes voting on the Mohawk deal by itself because he wants to combine it with the casino-related deals with other tribes.

The land claims of the Mohawks and other tribes were derailed after a ruling from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, relating to the Cayuga land claim in New York. The court found that the tribe did not have a claim because it filed suit too late -- 200 years after the loss of its land.

Through the BIA, the St. Regis Tribal Council found that the Monticello deal with Empire is not affected by any of that.

Newly elected Chief Lorraine M. White said reviving the Empire Resorts deal had not been considered before her tenure began two months ago.

"It was a discussion that had been going on between myself and Chief (Barbara A.) Lazore," she said.

On Aug. 2, the Tribal Council sent a letter to Gov. Pataki asking for his concurrence on the Monticello Racetrack casino. Since the Monticello project has BIA approval, all it needs to continue development is the governor's OK. The proposed Thompson casino does not have BIA approval.

"Basically, at this point, it's in the hands of the governor," BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said.

Empire Vice President Charles A. Degliomini said the company is happy to be working with the tribe again.

"It was difficult for us at the time," Mr. Degliomini said, adding that in retrospect he understands the appeal of Harris Gaming's offer.

But Mr. Degliomini said the deal with Harris Gaming is not dead, and Empire welcomes its completion.

"It's better to have a cluster of casinos than one casino by itself because it becomes a destination," he said. "These things aren't mutually exclusive."

Mrs. Lazore said if both casinos receive their needed approvals, the tribe would build two in Sullivan County.

Pataki spokesman Saleem M. Cheeks said Friday that the governor's office is reviewing the tribe's request for the Monticello casino.

(c) 2005 Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.