Amid budget woes, Paterson to renew push for Catskills casinos
By Joseph Spector[0x07]and Cara Matthews • Albany Bureau • August 28, 2009
ALBANY - With the state's fiscal problems, Gov. David Paterson is renewing a push to allow Indian casinos in the Catskills, a long-stalled plan that would boost revenue for the state and the region.
Paterson's aides and federal officials, including Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, Ulster County, met Wednesday with Larry EchoHawk, head of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, in Sullivan County with hopes of getting federal approval to build three casinos in the Catskills.
"There will be a renewed effort to rally stakeholders and make the case publicly that this is in the best interest of the state's economy and specifically for economic-development efforts in the region," Paterson spokesman Peter Kauffmann said.
The effort comes as Paterson indicated in Albany that he would call lawmakers back into session in late September to close the state's $2.1 billion budget gap. He said he hopes to reach an agreement with legislative leaders around Labor Day and hold session Sept. 23 or Sept. 29.
"The danger," Paterson said, "is that the later we go into the year, the less effective the cuts are because you've now exhausted calendar days, so I am hoping that right after Labor Day, we will try to get some preliminary agreements with the leaders so that we can come right in and get this done as soon as possible."
The state is struggling to increase revenue in the face of the economic downturn, and Paterson indicated he will not propose any new taxes or fees. In the current budget, Paterson and lawmakers approved more than 100 new taxes and fees to close a $17 billion budget gap.
Casinos in the Catskills have long been viewed as an economic remedy for the once-booming tourist area about 90 miles north of New York City, and as a way to fill the state's coffers with additional gambling revenue.
A memo prepared by Paterson's budget office estimates the casinos would produce thousands of jobs and about $150 million a year in new state revenue from the operation of slot machines.
In the wake of the economic downturn after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the state Legislature approved six Indian casinos - three in the Catskills and three in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area.
But the Catskills casino proposals have been beset with problems. In January 2008, then-Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne rejected proposals by about 20 tribes nationally, including two in the Catskills, to take off-reservation land into trust to build casinos.
But under the Obama administration, Democratic officials are renewing efforts to have the ruling overturned. Paterson sent a letter in May to current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to toss the ruling.
In a statement, Schumer, a Democrat, said, "I am confident that with a new administration we have a new way of thinking about applications that are finite, focused, appropriate for the region and have strong community support."
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe had sought to build a $600 million casino in Monticello, Sullivan County, and the Stockbridge Munsee of Wisconsin and the Seneca Nation of Indians, which owns the western New York casinos, also are seeking to build casinos in the Catskills.
State Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, Orange County, was among lawmakers who toured the proposed casino sites with EchoHawk. He said EchoHawk didn't make any promises but said he would review Kempthorne's decision.
White Plains developer Louis Cappelli, meanwhile, plans to redevelop the former Concord Hotel property in Sullivan County with a new Monticello Raceway and a resort with video-lottery terminals. The state Legislature recently increased incentives for the project.
Environmental groups spoke against the casino plans Wednesday.
Rather than casinos, "we should instead focus on forging a sustainable economic vision for the region that will create green jobs and preserve the unique resources of the Catskills," Mark Izeman, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: More gambling in New York. You got it. It will happen. The Governor of New York wants it.
It will have an economic effect on Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, and the Mohegan Sun Casino, in Uncasville, Connecticut.
What are our (the Mohegan Tribe) leaders doing about this situation? Are they just throwing up the hands over their heads and saying WHAT CAN WE DO? I believe the leadership that was re-elected will continue to fail us.
What benefits, will disapear or be cut back, for Mohegan Tribal members because of these leaders? How much will the tribe suffer because of them? Do you know? Do you care?
Our economic woes will continue to grow. They are hoping the economy will somehow turn around which according to economic forecasters will not happen in the near future. What do you think?
THESE ARE THE OPINIONS OF BROKENWING.