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Indian deal opens door
for Catskills casino

Jun 15, 2004 5:33 AM

What once was a summer retreat for tens of thousands of New Yorkers may again reclaim some of its celebrity when the Cayuga Tribe of Indians build a $500 million Las Vegas-styled casino on the site of Monticello Raceway in the Catskill mountains.

According to an agreement forged between tribal leaders and New York Gov. George Pataki, the Cayugas will relinquish their claim to 64,000 acres of ancestral land in central New York for a payment from the state of $248 million and the governor’s approval to go forward in pursuit of a casino.

The amount to be paid to the 500-member tribe is approximately the same amount awarded to them in an historic court ruling in 2000 when a federal judge stated that the land was illegally taken from them some 200 years ago.

The tribe inked a deal two years ago with Empire Resorts to locate a casino at the harness racing track that at one time was one of America’s leaders in the Standardbred industry. Since the track already has the state approval to install video lottery terminals, Monticello plans to unveil a 1,800 VLT parlor on June 30.

For the casino plans to go forward, the tribe must receive both state and federal approval and must also negotiate a gaming compact with the state.

Pataki, who has been trying to expand the state’s gaming industry through Indian compacts and through the establishment of VLTs at racetracks, has sponsored a bill in the legislature that will expedite the process. The bill, which would in effect establish a state Gaming Control Board, already has passed the Senate and is being debated in the House.

Executives of the New York Racing Association are supporting the bill in the belief that it will permit its partners, MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGG) to go forward with the construction of a new slot machine facility.