Federal Officials Reject Catskills Casino Plan (Updated)

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A casino in the Catskills will have to wait.

The U.S. Department of the Interior today rejected a proposal to build a casino in Sullivan County, a proposal the Gov. David Paterson had pitched in his final days in office, but was met with resistance from state lawmakers and rival casino owners.

The plan was put together after the state and the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohicans agreed to a land exchange. Developers said the casino would employ thousands of people in the economically depresses area and bring millions of dollars in tourism revenue to the area as well.

But state lawmakers complained that Paterson never clued them into the proposal and casino operators said the contract signed with the tribe included untenable exclusivity clauses that would hurt their businesses.

Stockbridge-Munsee President Kimberly Vele released a statement decrying the ruling:

To achieve justice, we have painstakingly worked with all appropriate local and state authorities over several administrations to craft a comprehensive agreement that would have removed the cloud over thousands of acres in Madison and Oneida Counties, led to a world-class casino resort in the economically depressed Catskills region, created thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in annual payments to Sullivan County and generated $925 million in annual economic activity for New York State over the next 30 years. It is disheartening that the US Department of the Interior (DOI) has done an 11th hour about-face by failing to support and finalize these agreements.

But the scraping of the casino plans was met with relief from the Oneida Indian Nation, saying the tribe has no claim to land in New York.

The Department of Interior today confirmed what we’ve been saying from the moment this compact was signed – the Stockbridge Munsee have no legitimate claims to the lands of New York, and therefore this process was always destined to fail. The elected officials that tried to push this deal through did a disservice to all people in New York by attempting to rewrite history to fit their narrow political interests. The Department of Interior made clear today that in our country, historical agreements matter. New York State will ultimately be stronger because of today’s decision.”

What’s next for a long-sought casino in the area is unclear. Gov. Andrew Cuomo never took a position on the Stockbridge-Munsee casino plan, but has said the area is in need of economic development.

Updated: Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto released a statement saying, “Today, the United States Department of Interior rejected the proposed compact put forth by the Stockbridge Munsee Tribe in hopes of developing and operating a casino in the Catskills resort region. We appreciate the Department’s considered review of the matter and look forward to economic development projects that will nurture and expand opportunities in the Catskills.”

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