ALBANY, N.Y. - In what could be a policy shift with widespread implications, New York Governor George Pataki told reporters that he would consider negotiating casino compacts with "out-of-state" tribes.
"Our goal is still to have compacts reached with the tribes that are in New York state. If we can do that, that is our preference. If we can't do that, then we will have to take another look," Pataki said. The governor added that he is continually re-evaluating his position.
Is this a ploy to get New York tribes to the bargaining table and perhaps concede to state demands on revenue sharing or local jurisdiction? Or is Pataki really serious about allowing tribes currently outside the state to enter the potentially lucrative Catskill market? Signals from Albany are mixed.
It is no secret that the state government is desperately hurting for money and has long had its eye on potential revenue from Indian casinos. The compact governing the Seneca Nation's Seneca-Niagara Casino calls for payments to the state to increase to 25 percent of the net slot machine take after eight years.
Pataki and other New York politicians recently proposed federal legislation to prevent tribes from crossing state lines and "venue shopping" for casino locations. This particular proposal was aimed at the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, whose attempts to open a bingo hall on land claim territory in Upstate New York have landed them in court.
Compact negotiations have thus far taken place outside public scrutiny. It is widely believed that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, Oneida Nation of New York and Cayuga Nation have been or are currently in negotiations. The Seneca Nation, which already has a compact for three casinos in the western region of the state, is the other New York tribe to have publicly expressed an interest.
On Oct 6, the BIA announced plans to take a parcel of Catskill land into trust for gaming purposes on behalf of the St. Regis Mohawks. The tribe and the state, however, have yet to sign a compact.
Among the "out-of-state" tribes to have expressed an interest are the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, both of whom have ancestral ties to territory within New York's current borders. The Stockbridge-Munsees own land in rural Madison County but are recognized in Wisconsin. The tribe has retained a developer and has plans to open a casino in Bridgeville, Sullivan County.
Until now, however, Pataki has steadfastly refused, at least publicly, to negotiate with tribes recognized in any other state but New York. The BIA's recently announced plans to take land into trust for a Mohawk-owned gaming center leave two remaining Catskill casinos up for grabs. The New York tribes competing for these casinos all have land claims outstanding against the state, and are decidedly unhappy with a door open to outsiders.
"Offering casinos to out-of-state Indian nations is incredibly shortsighted, and can only jeopardize land-claim settlement talks with nations in New York State," said Mark Emery, spokesman for the Oneida Nation. "At a time when New York state is desperate for economic development, it appears the state government is willing to send vast amounts of money out of state. Proceeds from Catskill casinos run by out-of-state Indian nations will not benefit a single New Yorker if they are shipped off to other states."