NYT: Paterson approval of Catskills casino doesn't sit well with Oneidas

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKTV) - The New York Times is reporting that Governor David A. Paterson is set to sign off on an Indian-owned casino development project in the Catskills, which would open the door for the state's first full-fledged casino within close proximity to New York City.

The casino would be located in Thompson, which is roughly 90 miles from New York City.

The pending agreement is with the Stockbridge-Munsee, a Mohican tribe which is based in Wisconsin. The Stockbridge-Munsee claims to trace their roots to New York and has been pursuing a casino in Sullivan County for years.

Officials in Sullivan County welcomed the news, but left the Oneida Indian Nation here in Central New York, reacting with dismay. According to the NY Times, government watchdogs raised concerns that the talks had apparently been conducted in secret.

The project still requires federal approval, but state and local officials told the Times that they were confident they had already cleared most of the necessary hurdles. As part of an agreement with the state, the tribe will settle a land claim suit in Madison County and receive an acre of land as part of the settlement, a person with knowledge of the arrangement told the Time, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Securing a foothold in New York is aimed at helping the tribe win the federal approval it needs in order to build a casino in Sullivan County, though federal regulators have long looked down on casinos proposed outside of reservations.

The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe is also said to have been in negotiations of a compact with New York State that would give $15 million a year to Sullivan County and give the state a percentage of casino revenue, a key component of winning state and federal approval. The State Legislature would also have to approve a tribal compact.

"The Paterson administration is working to reach an agreement with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of Mohican Indians; the secretary of the interior; and a number of local governments to resolve a longstanding land claim," Jessica Bassett, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in a statement on Tuesday. "This agreement would clear the way to bringing much needed economic development to Sullivan County."

Senator Charles E. Schumer called the deal "a huge boost for the economy that will include job growth and tourism, in a region that has been struggling for decades to get back on its feet."

The Oneida Indian Nation is not considering this a cause for celebration.

"We, and presumably every other Indian nation, were surprised to learn that the State of New York would invite an out-of-state tribe into the State to conduct gaming, which means that all of the profits will be drained from New York and returned to their home in Wisconsin," Oneida Nation Spokesman Mark Emery said. "It is a backwards economic policy and it is yet another lost opportunity to use the opportunities in the Catskills for the State to resolve its disputes with New York tribes. The idea that the State was settling a Stockbridge land claim is laughable, as the claim relates to Oneida Nation homelands and nobody honestly believes the Stockbridge ever had a legitimate claim here."

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