Paterson: NY near Catskill casino deal

By Michael Gormley
Albany, New York (AP) November 2010

Gov. David Paterson confirmed last week that he is working to reach an agreement to approve construction of an Indian-owned casino in the Catskills.

The potential deal would allow a casino to be built in Sullivan County as part of a land claim settlement with the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans. The Wisconsin-based tribe has long considered the Catskills their ancestral land.

A casino would bring jobs to the economically depressed area, and hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the cash-strapped state.

The idea, however, faces significant federal and legal hurdles and has eluded agreement for more than a decade.

"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 long-standing land claim," said Paterson's acting communications director, Jessica Bassett. "This agreement would clear the way to bringing much needed economic development to Sullivan County.

Several substantial issues would have to be addressed before Paterson could seal a deal by the time he leaves office Dec. 31. For example, the federal government would have to give its approval for an out-of-state tribe to build a casino in New York. The federal government also would have to decide if a tribe should be allowed to build a casino on land it owns, but which isn't part of a reservation.

Still, the allure of a full casino in the once-thriving resort area within driving distance of Manhattan has kept the idea alive. The Catskills' storied history as the Borscht Belt that attracted top comedy and musical acts has since been replaced for New Yorkers by casinos in Atlantic City and Indian casinos in Connecticut.

"We, and presumably every other Indian nation, were stunned 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," said Mark Emery of the Oneida Indian Nation in Central New York.

"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," Emery said.

Paterson's stepped-up effort was first reported by The Buffalo News.