February 21, 2007 -- Gov. Spitzer is getting into bed with the St. Regis Mohawks, giving the green light to a partnership between the upstate Indian tribe and a private firm to build a $600 million casino at the former Monticello Raceway in the economically troubled Catskills.
We're no fans of legalized gambling; it's socially corrosive on several levels.
But that horse is out of the barn. Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York already have casinos galore, and it's clear that the N.Y.C. area will, too - even if it means subverting the state Constitution's ban on casinos via compacts with Indian tribes.
However, doing a deal with this particular tribe - with its extended history of often-violent criminality - is a travesty.
Over the past eight years, the feds have cited the St. Regis Mohawks in connection with a $687 million smuggling operation involving illegal liquor, cigarettes and guns.
They've also done a brisk business smuggling people - transporting more than 3,600 illegal aliens from China into America through the St. Regis reservation, which transverses the U.S.-Canadian border along the St. Lawrence River.
They've also occasionally engaged in shoot-outs with the New York State Police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian army.
Not exactly good neighbors, we'd say.
Yet the last two governors have worked overtime to expand the Mohawks' control over casino gambling in New York.
Yes, the Catskills need economic help.
And there's no denying the potential revenue lure of this casino, which would be closer to the metropolitan area than either Atlantic City or Foxwoods.
But it would be fully 400 miles from the St. Regis reservation; in no credible sense is it part of tribal lands - logically, a prerequisite for the establishment of an Indian-owned casino.
And while the 1988 federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows for some latitude in this regard, U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne - who must sign off on any deal - has said lawmakers didn't intend to OK casinos so far from tribal land.
All of which suggests that the court battles are far from over. Competing casino interests, opponents of legalized gambling and local residents fearful of the casino's impact on traffic and other conditions all have vowed a fight.
We hope they wage it with vigor.
Happily, there's no sign that Kempthorne will rush to any decision in the matter. In fact, the matter will likely stay up in the air for years.
Which means there's time enough for the state to do this right.
If casino gambling is as inevitable as it appears, then it's time to amend the state Constitution to open gambling to everyone - not just dubious partners like the St. Regis Mohawks.
This would be an extended process: Two successively elected Legislatures would have to agree, and then there would be a statewide referendum.
There would be no guarantees, to be sure.
But it's the way to go.
Meanwhile, Spitzer needs to read the relevant State Police files on the St. Regis Mohawk tribe.
When he does, he'll come to his senses quickly enough - and ice this project.