State-tribe gambling deal helps counties

A deal between the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to resolve a dispute over casino gaming will result in a windfall of cash for Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Chief Ron LaFrance Jr. announced Tuesday that both sides have signed an agreement that ends a three-year standoff over payments owed to the state. Under the deal, the tribe will pay the state $30 million in back payments and 25 percent of future gaming revenues.

Under the revenue-sharing deal, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties will receive $3.75 million each in back payments from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino. The counties will also receive a portion of future revenues.

The deal also means that eight North Country counties – Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Warren – will be excluded from proposed casino-siting legislation.

“So that’s Plattsburgh, Lake Placid and Lake George” that might have been locations considered for casinos that will not be options, Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, told the Enterprise this morning. Each of the counties in that area will receive a portion of state casino revenue to compensate, he added.

“We’ve waited many years for a Governor who was willing to sit down with all the parties to the land claim to come to a negotiated settlement,” LaFrance said in a press release. “Governor Cuomo has accomplished much in the short time we’ve been meeting directly with him. He has given us assurances that our outstanding issues will be dealt with fairly.”

“By working together and finding common ground, the State and Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe have reached a fair and reasonable agreement that will grant the Tribe exclusive gaming rights in the North Country, and provide the state and local governments with their share of revenues from the casino,” Cuomo said in the release.

Maroun said the move is a step forward.

“I think it’s something that has to be done,” Maroun said.

Franklin County has been facing financial difficulties and is in the process of borrowing several million dollars for cash flow purposes and for a much-needed road project. Maroun said the influx of casino money could mean the county doesn’t have to borrow, or it might alleviate the need to borrow in the future for the natural gas pipeline the county is subsidizing from St. Lawrence County.

“It’s going to help us, there’s no doubt, in the long run,” Maroun said.

He said Franklin and St. Lawrence counties both have to ratify the compact.

Some Essex County lawmakers, including Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, had been looking forward to the possibility of locating a casino locally.

“I’m somewhat disappointed,” he said this morning. “I knew it was a long shot in the beginning to envision a casino in the Adirondacks. We have to set our sights on something else.

“One possibility that I’d like to pursue is casino boats on Lake Champlain. I think that could be a boon for the economy. It wouldn’t have the impact that one on land would have.”

Scozzafava said that because Lake Champlain is a federal waterway that borders two states, casino boats may not violate the exclusivity compact.

“I’m not certain as to how far the boundaries extend out onto Lake Champlain, but I think it’s worth pursuing,” he said.

Scozzafava commended Cuomo for reaching a deal with the tribe.

“The impact will be felt at the local government levels,” Scozzafava said.

As part of the agreement, negotiations will begin between the state, the tribe and local governments to resolve land claim disputes in the Bombay area. The remaining half of casino revenue owed to the state will be put in escrow until those issues are resolved.

Maroun said he hopes the claims can be settled similarly to the settlement reached between the state and the Oneida Indians.

“Hopefully it’ll be a settlement that everybody can live with,” Maroun said.

Maroun said the Mohawks are also looking to add land to the reservation and plan to negotiate with the counties. He said Franklin County is owed about $10 million in back property taxes related to the reservation, “so that will have to be paid up first.”

Land talks are expected to start in 10 days and focus on 5,000 to 7,000 acres east of the reservation, where the tribe is tight for residential and business space, according to the Associated Press.

Maroun said Cuomo is convinced, after working on the deal, that negotiations are more difficult with the Mohawk tribe than they were with the Oneidas. The Oneidas have one person who heads up the tribe.

“Here we have three chiefs and three subchiefs, and they’re all powerful,” Maroun said.