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North Country’s casino hopes killed

Exclusivity deal reached with Mohawks

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
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— Lake George’s hopes of a live-table casino were dashed Tuesday.

Six regions in upstate New York were initially targeted for three upstate casinos in a plan laid out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in anticipation of approval of a constitutional amendment allowing seven non-Indian live-table casinos. An exclusivity agreement reached with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, which operates the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino near the Canadian border, eliminates the North Country as a possible site for a non-Indian casino. This means no casino for Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Warren counties, which were included in the North Country region in the governor’s plan.

Last week, an exclusivity agreement was reached with the Oneida Nation of Indians, who operate Turning Stone in Central New York, which made Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego and Otsego counties off-limits for a non-Indian casino.

That leaves four possible regions, including the eight-county Capital Region, for the three casinos envisioned under the governor’s plan, which has yet to even be written into legislation. If a revenue-sharing agreement can be reached with the Seneca Indians, who operate casinos in western New York, they also will get an exclusivity zone, which would limit the three casinos to the Capital Region, Southern Tier and Catskills.

Lake George was considered a possible contender for a casino before Tuesday’s announcement. The community had begun debating the issue, and a public forum at the end of April attracted about 200 people.

With the possibility of a casino off the table, Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce President Michael Consuelo said officials will focus on other economic development opportunities to ensure the area is a year-round tourist destination. Even before a casino was a possibility, he said, they had been pushing for zoning changes that would allow for more development, including the construction of a new conference center and hotel.

“We want something that is an economic driver,” Consuelo said.

Lake George’s loss could be a gain for Saratoga Springs, where local governments and the Saratoga Casino and Raceway have lobbied in support of live-table games for the city.

Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus wasn’t jumping for joy with the increased chances of a casino coming to the Capital Region and potentially Saratoga Springs. “We prefer a sure bet given the local jobs and economic impact already associated with the [racino],” he said. “Our policy from Day One has preferred to be a designated site.”

The governor’s plan will only identify regions for the casinos, with specific operators and sites to be chosen through a bidding process that is reviewed by a temporary committee.

Shimkus added that the chamber endorses casino gambling only if its revenue helps support the state’s racing industry and host communities.

The deal between the state and the Mohawks requires an immediate payment of about $30 million from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, which is located in Franklin County near the Canadian border, to resolve outstanding revenue-sharing issues. Also, the tribe will contribute about 25 percent of its net gaming revenue to the state, with 25 percent of that money being split between St. Lawrence and Franklin counties.

The revenue-sharing agreement requires a higher percentage payout than casinos in Las Vegas or Atlantic City make, but it is about half the percentage required from the state’s nine racinos.

The state’s agreement with the Oneida Indians at Turning Stone only required 25 percent of slot machine revenue and excluded revenue from live-table games.

Cuomo said in a news release that Tuesday’s agreement stemmed from the “collaborative spirit” of both parties. “By working together and finding common ground, the state and St. Regis Mohawk Tribe have reached a fair and reasonable agreement,” he said.

Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder has been critical of Cuomo’s negotiating stance on this issue and accused the governor of using “playground bully tactics.”

 
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