Judge's Ruling Could Stymie New York Casinos

A state judge in New York has slapped down the governor's ability to negotiate casino deals on his own with Indian nations -- a major ruling that could halt a number of efforts under way by tribes to build new casinos.

Judge Joseph Teresi also ruled Wednesday that Gov. George Pataki and his predecessor, Mario Cuomo, "crossed the line" when they agreed to compacts that led to the opening and expansion of the state's only two casinos, which are run by Indian tribes.

The judge's decision, according to lawyers in the case, could lead to the closure of the casinos, one located near Utica, and the other along the Canadian border in northern New York. Whether that happens,though, is unlikely for a host of political reasons, several sources said. But the judge's decision, at the very least, keeps the two existing casinos from being able to expand without legislative authorization.

The lawsuit was brought by several state lawmakers, anti-gambling organizations, and the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, which was concerned about the impact additional casinos would have on the New York Racing Association's Saratoga track. The judge, following the lead in several other states where similar judicial decisions were ordered, said Indian compacts for casinos cannot be approved without the approval of the state legislature.

The Pataki administration, which did not immediately return a telephone call for comment, is expected to appeal the decision.

The decision throws a wrench into efforts by several tribes to build new casinos. Park Place Entertainment is trying to open a casino at a resort in Monticello -- home of a harness track -- in a partnership with the St. Regis Mohawks, operators of the casino in northern New York. In addition, Pataki has recently begun compact talks with the Seneca Indian Nation for one or two casinos in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area.

The case has been watched closely by some officials in the state's racing industry, which is battling for a shrinking share of the betting dollar. The Utica casino is located up the road from Vernon Downs, another harness track.

Lawmakers said the decision will certainly slow, if not outright block, future Indian casino expansions in the state. The legislature over the years, and in particularly the state Senate, has not been able to agree on plans to permit non-Indian gambling in several resort and economically struggling areas of the state.