Today U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, asking him to consider the pending applications for off reservation gambling in the Catskills on a case by case basis, and overturn the blanket ban established by his predecessor Dirk Kempthorne. In their letter, Schumer and Gillibrand stressed that the three pending applications in the Catskills have broad and deep community support, have been developed in consultation with state and local officials, have revenue sharing agreements with localities and the state, and have involved extensive environmental review. There has been extensive effort on both state and local levels to ensure that these proposed gaming facilities would be developed within the confines of federal and state law, because they are critical to the economic redevelopment of an area that used to be a center of commerce and tourism.
Schumer and Gillibrand's letter follows a letter written to Salazar by five of their colleagues from Western States that urged the Secretary Salazar to use greater scrutiny when reviewing applications for off reservation gaming. Specifically, the five western senators expressed concerns that off-reservation gaming opportunities can be sought without thorough consultation with local governments and other stakeholders; can be disruptive to existing land-use plans and revenue-sharing agreements; and can be accomplished without appropriate environmental review. Schumer and Gillibrand today said that they share these concerns, but that none of these problems would be caused by the three pending applications in the Catskills, which would all have thorough environmental review; be subject to a revenue and responsibility sharing compact with New York State and have the support of a broad cross section of the community. Schumer and Gillibrand therefore urged Salazar to overturn the precedent set by his predecessor Dirk Kempthorne that prevented any off reservation gaming facilities, and take a fresh look at New York's pending applications.
"There is fundamental consensus between my Senate colleagues and I that there should not be off reservation gaming facilities in parts of the country where widespread community support does not exist. However, there has long been widespread community support for gaming in the Catskills, and - because it would be a big boost to the local economy, job growth and tourism - that continues to be the case. That is why I urged President Obama's new head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take a fresh look at the pending applications that were rejected wholesale by Secretary Kempthorne. I was disappointed in Secretary Kempthorne's unfortunate decision last year, but heartened by Mr. EchoHawk's pledge to take a hard look at the Kempthorne precedent as part of their larger review of gaming policy. I hope that with a new administration we have a new way of thinking about applications that are finite, focused, appropriate for the region, establish revenue-sharing models and have strong community support," said Senator Schumer.
"Sullivan County has one of the highest unemployment rates in New York State and the development of gaming facilities would provide a much needed boost to the local economy," Senator Gillibrand said. "In addition to the thousands of construction jobs that would be created by these projects, many permanent jobs would also be created, putting local residents back to work. Because of its close proximity to New York City, the Catskills has historically relied on the entertainment and tourism industries as major drivers of its economy. The creation of these new casinos is a fitting solution to restore the jobs that have been lost in this region and would provide significant economic benefit to the community."
The Stockbridge-Munsee seek to build a casino outside Monticello in the Town of Thompson in Sullivan County. The St. Regis Mohawks sought to build a casino at the Monticello Raceway. In January of 2008, then Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne denied their applications, along with 21 other off-reservation land-into-trust applications on grounds that they were too far from reservations and, thus, damaging to life on existing reservations. Schumer and Gillibrand feel that this blanket ruling is too broad, and that the BIA has a responsibility to look at applications on a case by case basis, and in locations when there is broad and deep community support, consider approving them.
Because of the widespread community support, Schumer has long been supportive of the pending applications to build gaming facilities in the Catskills. He has lobbied Secretary Salazar and Bureau of Indian Affairs head Larry EchoHawk in phone calls and letters, asking them to overturn the precedent set by former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.
This summer, Senator Gillibrand urged Secretary Salazar to reconsider the application to pursue casino gaming in the Catskills. In her letter, Gillibrand cited widespread support from the community and local elected officials.
Up to three casinos in the Catskills were authorized by state law in 2001, but those efforts must first pass muster with the BIA. In processing applications for gaming, the BIA consults with the community and determines whether gaming is in the best interests of the tribe and whether it will be detrimental to the community. The BIA then seeks the approval of the state's governor. This is known as a "two-part determination" under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Final State approval is generally done by way of a compact, which the governor is authorized to form on behalf of the state, once several labor, revenue sharing, and liability conditions are met.