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Casinos support local services

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Towns near Indian casinos receive millions from the tribes for local services in spite of frequent political tensions, several recent distribution reports show.

The Oneida Indian Nation has announced the sixth year of its Silver Covenant Chain Education Grants which contributed more than $2.2 million to seven area school districts to use as they see fit.

In Connecticut, towns and cities close to the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos debate how to split up millions from the Mashantucket Pequot/ Mohegan Fund, which distributes money the casinos pay state government from slot machine revenue. Last year the fund provided $135 million to 169 municipalities.

Other revenue-sharing funds and foundations have been set up by the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, tribes in Oregon and the California gaming compact, said Katherine Spilde, research director for the National Indian Gaming Association. NIGA is just beginning a survey of tribal charitable giving and even though no figures are available, "there's a lot of money going out of Indian country."

These examples underlie the recent offer of Connecticut's Eastern Pequots to establish a fund to share $3 million over 10 years with its neighboring town of North Stonington if its plans for a casino go through. The Eastern Pequots won preliminary recognition from the BIA but face obstruction from state and local politicians. In spite of the opposition from town leaders, the tribe says it will contribute the money to be a "good neighbor" no matter where the casino might ultimately be located.

The Oneida's "Silver Covenant" donates funds to neighboring towns which otherwise fight the nation on a number of issues. The program name, said a nation spokesman, refers to the centuries old "silver covenant chain of friendship" between the Oneidas and other nations, including the Dutch, the French and the United States.

"Education is so important because the children in school today are the ones who will be our leaders in a few years," said Men's Council member Chuck Fougnier. "The Silver Covenant grants help these schools provide a quality education for our children and our neighbors' children, and we're happy to be able to offer this program."

The grant amounts are based on the nation's possession of Oneida reservation land in each school district. For the first quarter of 2001, grants will total more than $215,000. The biggest recipient in the life of the program is the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill district, surrounding the Turning Stone Casino Resort. It has received more than $1.4 million since 1996.

Towns and cities in Connecticut receive part of the money the two casinos pay the state government in return for the right to run highly profitable electronic slot machines. Last year the tribal casinos paid the state $319 million, 25 percent of their slot revenues, and the state passed on $135 million to local governments. The towns and cities are pushing a bill to increase their share, but also are debating how to split it up.

The towns of Montville, Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston maintain they should get a higher share as "host communities" for the casinos, although nearby cities also ask for more on the grounds that more casino workers live there. Last year the four host towns split $2.5 million from the fund. Of the cities in the region, Norwich received $2.5 million, Groton $3 million and New London $3.9 million.