ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and St. Regis Mohawk tribal leaders signed an agreement Tuesday to ensure the Mohawks keep their exclusive casino territory in northern New York while paying the state $30 million in gambling proceeds that have been withheld.
The accord also opens the door to negotiations with the state and counties over Mohawk land claims near their reservation along the Canadian border. Talks are expected to start in 10 days. St. Regis Mohawk Chief Ron LaFrance said the focus will be about 5,000 to 7,000 acres east of the reservation where the tribe is running out of space for homes and businesses.
The state agreed to remove the eight-county region from the Cuomo administration's proposal for three new upstate New York casino resorts, while the tribe agreed to resume paying 25 percent of future gambling revenues to the state, with shares of that again going to Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.
"There's still other issues to work through," Cuomo said. "But I think we're going to get there."
Another $30 million in state proceeds are being held in an escrow account pending resolution of the land claims.
The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in Hogansburg, established under a 1999 compact with the state, now has more than 1,800 slot machines, table games and a 150-room hotel. A breakaway Mohawk group established slot machines and bingo games at another location without state approval, resulting in the tribe's withholding of revenues to the state starting in 2010. The state is negotiating some reduction in the St. Regis payment related to the breakaway gambling facility, the governor said.
At the same time, the Cuomo administration has proposed three new upstate casinos, which has helped prompt resolution of ongoing state disputes with the Oneida tribe last week and the Mohawks this week. Oneidas have a casino resort in central New York and have been promised the new ventures won't go into its exclusive gambling territory while agreeing to share some revenues with the state.
Chief Paul Thompson said that for the St. Regis Mohawks the most important issue is the land claim, and that finances are secondary. "Our community is bursting at the seams. We have like 400 people that are living in Massena because they can't find land for houses on our territory," he said.
State Sen. Betty Little, who represents the region, said some of the land in question already has tribal members living there and not paying taxes.
LaFrance said it is mostly abandoned agricultural and farmland adjacent to the reservation. The reservation currently has about 14,000 residents on both the U.S. and Canadian sides.
"We need to diversify our economy. And right now part of that is we just do not have the space to do that," he said, suggesting some light to medium manufacturing in addition to new housing.
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