Tuesday, February 2, 2010


By Victor Whitman
Times Herald-Record
Posted: February 02, 2010

MONTICELLO — Now that the St. Regis Mohawks have officially approved going forward with a casino in Sullivan County, what does it mean?

Not much.

On Saturday, tribal members voted 538-371 in favor of pursuing a casino here. All this means is the tribe is willing to talk with their former partner, Empire Resorts.

Empire owns 29 acres next to the Monticello Casino & Raceway, where the casino would be built. The two sides must come to terms on a property sale and casino management contract. The Mohawks would then have to negotiate high hurdles ahead for a rare casino approval.

Negotiations with Empire won't even begin unless the Obama Administration reverses Bush-era policies that all but ban off-reservation casinos.

"We are waiting for that," Mohawk spokesman Dave Staddon said. "Certainly the Obama administration have clearly indicated that they are willing to reconsider it, but I don't know at what time that will be ... . I would hope they could render a decision by the end of the year."

There is "nothing new to report" from Obama's Interior Department, said Jeff Lieberson, a spokesman for Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley.

The Mohawks have been trying, on and off, for 15 years to gain all the approvals. They've walked away twice from Empire, the last time in an ugly spat after their application to take land into trust was denied by former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in early 2008.

For several months, Mohawk leaders like Chief James Ransom have been talking informally with Empire. Ransom stood, for example, with Empire's executives at the Monticello Casino & Raceway, when the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Larry Echo Hawk, came to Sullivan County last summer.

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