Press-Republican

January 29, 2013

Exclusivity factors in St. Lawrence casino

DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

AKWESASNE — St. Regis Mohawks have exclusive rights to operate a casino in seven upstate counties, which may spoil St. Lawrence County’s efforts to attract one.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed creation of three casinos north of New York City to boost the economy but didn’t specify where they would go.

St. Lawrence County quickly created an economic-advisory committee to study the economic impact of hosting an off-reservation casino.

At the same time, published reports state that the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority has two possible sites available along the St. Lawrence River across from Prescott, Ont.

EXCLUSIVE AREA

But the gaming compact reached between the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe that created the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino grants gaming-exclusivity rights to the Mohawks in seven area counties: Franklin, Clinton, Essex, St. Lawrence, Hamilton, Jefferson and Warren.

David Trout Staddon, director of public information for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, said the governor clarified his position recently when he said no new casinos would be built where an Indian tribe has exclusivity rights.

Franklin County officials see it the same way.

“I don’t think the agreement we have will let them have a casino because (the Mohawks) have an exclusive all the way from Plattsburgh over; at least, that’s my thinking of it,” said Legislator Guy “Tim” Smith (D-Fort Covington).

“I took it from the governor that there was going to be one upstate, but I don’t think they’ve got the population for it,” he said of St. Lawrence County, adding that a place like Saratoga is more likely to win it.

SHARED PROFITS

The compact agreement between the state, local governments and the Tribal Council awards a sliding-scale percentage of slot-machine profits to the entities most impacted by the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino operation, which is wholly situated in Franklin County.

Besides the state, Franklin County and its towns of Bombay and Fort Covington and St. Lawrence County and its towns of Massena and Brasher also get shares.

But because the Mohawks claim the state broke the exclusivity agreement by allowing gaming machines at the Ganienkeh Mohawk Nation territory near Altona, the Tribal Council has not paid the compact partners any of their shares since the fall of 2010.

LOCAL IMPACT

If, for some reason, a casino is awarded to its western neighbor, Franklin County Legislator Gordon Crossman (D-Malone) said, it might be wise for him and his colleagues to ask the state to remove St. Lawrence County from sharing in existing compact shares.

“That would be only right, wouldn’t it?” he said, adding that “it would be interesting if St. Lawrence County said no.”

Smith said Franklin County “has been a good neighbor” to the Mohawks, “and we have no reason to hurt them.

“I’ve been working with them on land claims for 30 years,” he said, “and I represent their people on the reservation and their neighbors off the reservation.”

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com