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Six Nations wondering who gets sixth casino

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ALBANY, N.Y. -- Guessing games are spreading through the Six Nations and beyond over the mystery of the sixth New York casino.

As Gov. George Pataki signed the bill Oct. 31 authorizing compacts for six new Indian casinos, five were pretty much accounted for. A previously negotiated deal with the Seneca Indian Nation would allow three in economically depressed western New York. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is pushing well-publicized plans for another in the Catskills region in Sullivan County. Frequent reports have the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans scouting a second Sullivan County casino.

But the casino bill authorizes a sixth in Ulster County with no clear tribal sponsor. Rumors of pending deals are causing tensions within the Iroquois Confederacy.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., started one round with a statement that the Oneida Indian Nation, owner of the Turning Stone Casino Resort, was talking to Gov. Pataki about the Ulster County site. The nation owns Standing Stone Media, the publisher of this newspaper.

The St. Regis Mohawk Council reacted anxiously to the news. "It would raise questions about good relations between our nations," council spokeswoman Rowena General said. "The Oneida Council has not indicated to the Mohawk Council that they are (speaking to the governor). They never indicated it to us. We have been speaking to them on significant issues."

Mark Emery, spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation, said only, "It appears to be an opportunity. We'll take a hard look at it."

The Oneida Nation considered a Catskills casino in 1995 but shelved the plans to concentrate on economic development in its homelands.

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Another contender may be the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, the populous off-shoot of the Oneidas, which moved west in the early 19th century. But the tribal government is in some turmoil over management of its own gaming hall in Green Bay. The Business Committee and the Gaming Commission have split openly over a shake-up of casino management.

A dark horse, and unlikely candidate, is the Western Mohegan Tribe, a non-recognized tribe that purchased the Tamarack Lodge, a former Ulster County resort, last year. The tribe bought the 250-acre property from the county for $900,000 and announced plans for a cultural museum and hydroponics farm. It said it would settle 400 members on the site. The Western Mohegans applied for federal recognition in 1997.

Ulster County Treasurer Lewis Kirchner said recently the tribe was contemplating a casino.

The Cayuga Indian Nation, a Six Nations member that is federally recognized, is denying reports it too wants a Catskills casino. Speculation has persisted since last summer that the state offered a gaming compact to the Cayugas as part of a land claims settlement. The state proposal specifically mentioned the Monticello Raceway site now reportedly under consideration by the Stockbridge-Munsee Band.

But the Cayugas recently won a substantial victory in their suit, giving them a potential settlement of a quarter of a billion dollars. Cayuga Chief Clint Halftown rebutted reports that nation representatives were conducting talks in the Catskills.

"I can't account for all 500 of our people, but officially nobody from our nation was down there."

Jeff Vele, communications director for the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans, said he was still in the dark about his tribe's plans. "I'm treated like a mushroom." But he indicated some news might be forthcoming next week in the next issue of the tribal newspaper.

He said the band pursued land claims in the Hudson Valley for several decades and a tribal referendum in 1999 approved exploration of a New York state casino by a "pretty large" margin.