Just weeks after breaking ground on a casino at Aqueduct, Gov. David Paterson is hoping to forge an agreement for a competing, Native American-owned casino 100 miles away in the Catskills region.
The agreement being “finalized’’ in the words of one administration source would permit the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans to locate a full-fledged casino--unlike the slots-only facility under construction at Aqueduct--in the Sullivan County town of Thompson.
The talks come as Paterson gets ready to leave office Dec. 31 in advance of Andrew Cuomo taking over the governor’s mansion.
The casino would bring revenue-sharing proceeds to the cash-starved state–though it is uncertain when that would be and racing officials privately were warning it will undercut other racetrack-based casinos, especially Yonkers Raceway and the future Aqueduct facility that also must share proceeds with the state.
Officials in the Catskill Mountains have been trying for years to bring a casino to their once-vibrant tourist region, and a host of Native American-owned facilities have been floated every so often.
But officials close to Paterson believe the latest plan can convince federal officials in the Obama administration to undo a federal rule--enacted by the United States Department of Interior officials during the Bush administration--that essentially bans tribes from opening off-reservation casinos. The new plan with the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe would end a land claims lawsuit brought nearly 25 years ago by the Wisconsin-based tribe for a piece of land in central New York it claims as ancestral territory.
A Paterson administration spokeswoman, Jessica Bassett, confirmed the talks are actively unde rway between the tribe, as well as federal and local officials.
An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal calls for settling a 25,000-acre land claim by the tribe in central New York in which the tribe would accept one acre in the region. In turn, a compact would be agreed to permitting the tribe to locate a casino complex on more than 300 acres in Sullivan County.
The land would taken into "trust'' by the federal government, which the Paterson administration believes will -- along with the land settlement -- pave the way for federal approval of the casino plan.
Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly racing and wagering committee, said he does not believe the tribe is a New York-based entity. But he dismissed concerns in the racing industry that the casino would rob business from the future Aqueduct casino or other racetrack-based casinos, including Yonkers and nearby Monticello Raceway.
He said there is plenty of casino business to spread between all the sites, and that the casinos in New Jersey and Connecticut should be more worried about a Catskills casino.
Stockbridge-Munsee president Kimberly Vele confirmed talks are under way, but declined further comment.
The governor broke ground in October on the long-stalled Aqueduct casino project, which is being run by Genting New York, a Malaysian-owned company.
Officials at the New York Racing Association said they were unaware of talks between the state and the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe for a Catskills casino.