U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne rejected the proposals of two American Indian tribes to operate casinos in Sullivan County earlier this month, effectively killing the idea of gambling in the Catskills and drawing complaints from various pro-casino factions in the region and state, including the Governor. For the casinos to move forward, Kempthorne said he would need to authorize the placement of off-Indian reservation land in trust at the two sites. He refused to do that.
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe wants to create a casino at Monticello Raceway, and the Stockbridge Munsee Tribe has been developing plans for a gaming hall in Bridgeville.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the state Legislature and then-Gov. George Pataki approved the creation of a total of three Indian-run casinos in Ulster and Sullivan counties as a way to boost state revenue. But final approval of the gaming halls rests with the interior secretary. There currently is no plan on the table for a casino in Ulster County, though towns is the southern part of the county have expressed interest in becoming home to one. And former County Ligislative Chairman Ward Todd went to contract for one during his tenure in office… although the matter was later allowed to lapse.
Both Congressman Maurice Hinchey and State Sen. John Bonacic said the presence of casinos could breathe new life into the Catskills and Hudson Valley.
and criticized Kempthorne’s ruling.
Officials at Empire Resorts, which owns Monticello Gaming and Raceway, held out hope following the decision, stating that they would continue to look at “every opportunity to realize the promise of jobs and economic development for the people of Sullivan County.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council, which has opposed development of Native American casinos in Sullivan County, Monday, said the decision by US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne not to approve them was “a major victory” for the people of the Catskills and New York State and noted that it is unlikely that there would be a reversal of that decision any time soon.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is concerned about the impact the casinos would have on Route 17 traffic, air quality and new development impacting the quality of life in the Catskills.
“This is a tremendous victory for Catskills residents who have fought to preserve the quality of life in our region,” read a statement from Catskill Mountainkeeper, a new regional organization brought together to fight the issue. “This is a great opportunity for us to leave behind the divisive battle over casinos that has divided communities for so long and look to economic development we can all get behind.”
Meanwhile, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has announced that it has filed a suit against Kempthorne seeking to overturn his decision, alleging the secretary’s decision is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, has no basis in the law, and constitutes an abuse of his position as secretary.