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Mohawks, state reach agreement on casino revenue

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The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has agreed to resume giving the state proceeds from its gaming operations in St. Lawrence County, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced at a televised press conference in Albany on Tuesday.

“I commend the collaborative spirit in which all parties came together to forge this agreement,” Gov. Cuomo said in a press release.

The tribe since 2010 had been withholding the money — about $59 million — because it said the state was allowing another casino to operate in Clinton County in violation of an agreement that gave the Indians exclusive rights to gaming in an eight-county upstate region.

The agreement means the state will not site a new casino in the exclusive Mohawk region. Under the agreement, the tribe will pay $30 million of payments owed and 25 percent of future gaming revenues to the state. The agreement also initiates discussions between the state, the tribe and local governments to resolve unrelated land claim disputes.

“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,” Mohawk Chief Ronald LaFrance said in the release. “Gov. 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.”

In addition to resuming payments of 25 percent of their yearly electronic slot machine revenues, the tribe will pay Albany half of the $60 million it has held in escrow since 2010. Franklin and St. Lawrence counties each will receive $1.8 million of that; the towns of Bombay, Fort Covington, Massena and Brasher each will get about $960,000. Under the new deal, the state will take 10 percent of its share of slot machine monies and distribute 10 percent of that among Clinton, Essex, Hamilton, Jefferson, Warren and Lewis counties.

The announcement was welcome news for cash-strapped St. Lawrence County officials.

Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said the county can expect $3 million to $3.5 million in back payments.

“This money was money we considered as owed to us and we actually booked as a receivable,” she said. “We have included that figure in our fund balance, so we can certainly breathe a sigh of relief now that we know it’s coming.”

Ms. St. Hilaire said annual payments for this year and beyond are expected to amount to $1.5 million to $2 million.

“This issue has been hanging out there for three years,” she said. “That’s a lot of money for the folks of St. Lawrence County.”

St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, who was among the officials in Albany when the announcement was made, praised and marveled at the governor’s ability to build bridges with the Mohawks.

“The governor has taken an issue that was seeming to go nowhere and moved the ball forward to advance our cause in St. Lawrence County,” Mr. Putney said. “There needs to be further dialogue about the remainder of the money, but this is a great first step forward. It is a tremendous day ... a tremendous victory.”

Brasher Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said his town will use a portion of its share — which he said is half of what it normally would receive — to construct a new garage.

The current town garage, located in Helena, was purchased from the St. Lawrence Seaway for $1 in 1958, and the town had to build the foundation and walls for the steel building that had served as a storage shed for the Seaway. The building is not big enough for the highway department’s vehicles, hot air furnaces are hanging from the ceiling and some of the walls are crumbling and in need of repairs.

The tribe has withheld slot machine payments since 2010, citing a casino on the Ganienkeh reservation in Altona as a breach of their gaming exclusivity compact with the state. The deal, which the tribe signed in 2003, guaranteed them the exclusive right to operate electronic slot machines in northern New York. Cuomo said there currently is no resolution for the Ganienkeh casino, which he said is an illegal operation.

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