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Off-reservation gaming decision ‘tantalizingly close’

NEW YORK – Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says the Obama administration will make a critical decision on off-reservation gaming policy in the coming weeks.

Schumer told the Times Herald Online that he recently spoke with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who is reviewing a “guidance memorandum” issued by former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in January 2008. The controversial guidance placed a new hurdle on land into trust applications for gaming – a “commutability” standard under which the applied-for land is to be considered in light of its distance from a nation’s reservation, regardless of whether it is within a nation’s historical territories.

The memo caused an uproar across Indian country, not only because distance isn’t mentioned in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, but also because the guidance effectively amounted to a new regulation that had been promulgated without consultation with the nations, raising memories of the days of federal paternalism and policies to keep Indians on reservations.

Schumer has been lobbying Interior to review each casino proposal on its merits, a procedure the BIA followed prior to the guidance memorandum bombshell.

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The senator has also been asking Interior to review two land into trust applications in Sullivan County from the St. Regis Mohawks and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans that were rejected by Kempthorne along with nine other applications a day after the guidance memorandum was issued in early 2008.

The St. Regis application for a casino site in the Catskill Mountains on which the tribe planned to build a $600 million casino resort had been virtually approved when Kempthorne’s guidance memorandum pulled the plug on the project.

“After over a year of hard work, a decision on whether to overturn the flawed Kempthorne precedent is tantalizingly close,” Schumer said. “As we continue to work to overturn the blanket ban, we must also be mindful of the next steps in this process and begin laying the groundwork so that we can move forward as quickly as possible with the evaluation of the pending applications.”