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Catskills gaming initiative topic of discussion

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A government contingent led by Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. met with high-ranking federal officials and Sullivan County representatives Aug. 26 to discuss the nation’s efforts to bring Class III gaming to the Catskills.

The purpose of the meeting was to brief the Assistant Secretary to the Department of Interior Larry EchoHawk about the Seneca’s gaming plan for Sullivan County and urge Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to lift the Kempthorne restriction to assist in the development of appropriate rules to allow the nation’s fee land in this area to be taken into trust for gaming purposes. The policy, a “Guidance Memorandum” issued Jan. 3, 2008, by former Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, restricted Indian tribes from taking off-reservation land into trust for gaming purposes, which is a necessary step for New York’s Indian nations to establish gaming operations in Sullivan County.

“For many months the nation and our development partner Rotate Black have worked vigorously with officials from the state, county, and local governments in Sullivan County so that Class III gaming in the Catskills can become a reality in the near future,” Snyder said. “The Kempthorne policy remains a major obstacle to moving forward. We came today to seek assistance in withdrawing this misguided directive and addressing the ‘commutability’ issue in a fair and just manner for the good of Sullivan County and the economic sovereignty of the Seneca Nation. We are very encouraged by today’s discussion.”

In February, the Seneca Nation purchased 63 acres of land from its exclusive development partner Rotate Black Gaming Inc. of Michigan to begin clearing the way for a Catskills casino. It currently operates three Class III gaming properties in western New York including Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel in Niagara Falls, Seneca Allegany Casino & Hotel, Salamanca and Seneca Buffalo Creek, Buffalo. It has also expressed interest in Sullivan County’s Concord Hotel currently owned by Louis Cappelli as another gaming location option.

Currently, the nation and its corporate entities spend more than $90 million with vendors, suppliers and businesses in western New York. In addition to hundreds of union construction jobs that have been created in the last eight years, the nation has paid New York state and local municipalities close to $500 million in fees in exchange for the exclusive right to offer slot-type gaming devices locally. They are the fifth largest employer in western New York with more than 6,300 employees.

With more than 24 million people living within two hours of the proposed gaming site, the Seneca’s Catskill casino will also create a significant economic development infusion into another struggling region of the state. It is estimated that more than $100 million in vendor sales will be directly accessed from Hudson Valley businesses. Governments and taxpayers in the region will also benefit, as there will be indirect sales tax, income tax and property tax benefits paid by non-Native employees, vendors and contractors. In addition, the exclusivity payments to the state and local host communities will provide millions of dollars in new revenues that will help to reduce unemployment, create jobs, bring new business to the area, broaden the current tax base, reduce real property tax burdens and more.

“In many ways, western New York and the Catskills Region are a lot alike,” said Snyder. “Both areas of the state once had thriving economies and through strong leadership, action can be taken to make things happen. Class III gaming has done much to put the Seneca Nation and the western New York region on the road to recovery. We would like the opportunity to do the same in the Catskills region.”