Press-Republican

May 22, 2013

Cuomo, St. Regis Mohawk leaders sign casino pact

DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

AKWESASNE — The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe will release $30 million in suspended slot-machine profits, retain casino-exclusivity rights and revive land-claim negotiations in an agreement reached Tuesday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Franklin and St. Lawrence counties will immediately receive $3.75 million each, which is about half of what is owed to them since the tribe stopped paying out a pre-determined portion of slot-machine profits three years ago.



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Under the compact, the parties shared 18 percent of profits in years one through four of the casino operation, which then increased to 22 percent in years five through seven. The share bumped up to 25 percent in year eight and is to last in perpetuity.

The counties each give half of their shares to the towns most impacted by the casino operation: Bombay and Fort Covington in Franklin County and Massena and Brasher in St. Lawrence County.

Tuesday’s announcement means each impacted town will receive $1.875 million.   

The Akwesasne Mohawks had suspended payments in late 2010 when they charged that slot machines at the Ganienkeh Mohawk territory near Altona violated the gaming compact they signed with the state in 2004.

The state, the release said, is negotiating some reduction in the St. Regis payment related to Ganienkeh’s gambling facility.

The agreement re-enforces exclusive casino rights for Akwesasne in eight counties: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Warren and Hamilton.

‘COLLABORATIVE SPIRIT’

About $60 million in profit payments were being held in escrow, which means about half of that amount will be released by the tribe.

And the 25 percent profit-share payments will resume, Cuomo said.

“By working together and finding common ground, the state and St. Regis Mohawk Tribe have reached a fair and reasonable agreement that will grant the tribe exclusive gaming rights in the North Country and provide the state and local governments with their share of revenues from the casino,” the governor said. 

“I commend the collaborative spirit in which all parties came together to forge this agreement.”

The anticipated payment also means Franklin County may not have to borrow $4 million it was planning to seek to meet tax-warrant obligations to local school districts and municipalities.

“The bottom line is we should be able to meet our obligations in unpaid taxes,” said County Treasurer Bryon Varin. “And I’m pleased we will continue revenue sharing to help real-property owners in Franklin County.

“I applaud Gov. Cuomo for bringing a resolution to this for the state, people in Franklin County and the Mohawk people,” he said. 

BOMBAY TRIANGLE PROGRESS

The other half of the withheld money will remain in escrow, as the state, impacted towns and the Mohawks try to settle a longstanding land-claim dispute involving parcels in what is known as the Bombay Triangle.

Talks are expected to begin in about 10 days, the release said.

Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance praised Cuomo, saying, “We’ve waited many years for a governor who was willing to sit down with all the parties to the land claim to come to a negotiated settlement.

“Gov. Cuomo has accomplished much in the short time we’ve been meeting directly with him,” he said. “He has given us assurances that our outstanding issues will be dealt with fairly.”

The Cuomo administration has proposed three new upstate casinos, and, last week, reached an agreement that would keep them out of the central New York area, where the Oneida Tribe has an operation of its own.

The State Legislature passed a constitutional amendment last year legalizing up to seven casinos. It must be passed again this year or in 2014 and then go to public referendum.

Earlier this year, Essex County had expressed interest in possibly having one of them located there.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com