he decision, which will revive the fight over the land, came at a time when the relationship between New York State and other Indian tribes was already at a low point.
The Interior Department, which oversees matters involving tribes, turned down the proposal by the Stockbridge-Munsee Indians and a developer to build the US$560 million Las Vegas-style casino near Monticello, saying it had “concerns” whether the gambling compact signed by the tribe and the state and a related land settlement complied with federal law.
In November, Governor David A. Paterson approved the casino and in exchange, the tribe, which has roots in New York, dropped its claim to 9307.76 hectares upstate Madison County. That fight will now resume.
Kimberly Vele, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohicans, called the decision a “setback for the tribe,” the state and the Catskills. She said it was disheartening that the Interior Department had “done an 11th -hour about-face by failing to support and finalize the agreements.”
In addition to the land dispute with the Stockbridge-Munsees, the state is at odds with the Senecas and St. Regis Mohawks, which it says have refused to turn over more than US$235 million in revenue-sharing payments.
Also, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is demanding that Indian retailers pay excise taxes on cigarettes sold on their reservations to non-Indians. That could generate an estimated US$200 million a year for the state.
Much of that antagonism is rooted in the speedy growth of legalized gambling in New York. Not long after the 9/11 attack, with the state’s finances shaky, the Legislature authorized six Indian casinos and the installation of electronic slot machines, known as video lottery terminals, at nine struggling racetracks, with all of them contributing a portion of their income to the state.
Legislators thought they had tapped into a revenue gusher, and found an elegant solution to a nettlesome problem, by approving Indian casinos in exchange for agreements to settle tribal claims on thousands of acres. But as three of the casinos were built and the slot machines were installed at the tracks, Porter acknowledged that what seemed to be a good idea was no longer working: everyone began competing for gamblers, and other states, notably Pennsylvania, allowed more gambling.
The racetrack slots now contribute more than US$450 million a year to the state, and machines being installed at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens are predicted to generate US$300 million more.