US officials reject Catskill casino plans by two tribes

By Devlin Barrett
Washington, D.C. (AP) 1-08

The federal government has rejected plans for two tribal casinos in the Catskills, saying the gaming sites aimed at drawing high rollers from New York City might leave their faraway tribes worse off.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe had sought to build a $600 million casino in Monticello in Sullivan County, about 90 miles from New York City. The Stockbridge Munsee of Wisconsin had also sought to build a casino in Sullivan County. Both were rejected in separate letters to tribal leaders by Department of Interior Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason.

The letters were sent to tribal leaders during early January.

Both applications center around the hotly-disputed question of whether tribes should be allowed to establish casinos far away from their reservations. The St. Regis Mohawk tribe is located about 350 miles north of its proposed site. The Stockbridge Munsee are more than 1,000 miles away.

“The remote location of the proposed gaming facility may encourage reservation residents to leave the reservation for an extended period to take advantage of the job opportunities created,” Cason wrote in identical language to the two tribes. “The potential departure of a significant number of reservation residents and their families could have serious and far-reaching implications for the remaining tribal community and its continuity as a community.”

The decision was quickly criticized by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a lawmaker who has strongly supported the casino plans.

“It is clear that the next opportunity for these proposed casinos to move forward and be objectively evaluated will be under a new administration by a different Secretary of the Interior,” said Hinchey, D-Hurley.

Hinchey and the St. Regis tribe have long maintained that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has not fairly considered the proposal, because when he was the governor of Idaho he firmly resisted off-reservation gaming.

The St. Regis filed a lawsuit late last year accusing Kempthorne of stalling the approval process.

The Stockville Munsee had sought to approval to acquire in trust a 333-acre parcel in the town of Thompson. The St. Regis Mohawks had sought to acquire a 29-acre parcel.

Proponents of the St. Regis casino envision an entertainment complex with approximately 125 table games, 3,500 slot machines, 24 poker tables, and numerous restaurant and retail venues, that they claim would create more than 3,000 permanent jobs.