Oklahoma tribe proposes casino for New York's Finger Lakes

Sunday, April 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, one of three parties suing for the return of former reservation land in New York, notified the governor's office of its interest in operating a gambling casino in the Finger Lakes region.

Tribal officials originally told state officials they wanted a casino in western New York. Now, they want an agreement with the governor's office for casinos in Niagara County, and in either Cayuga or Seneca County, according to a letter from the tribal chief to Gov. George Pataki and a developer retained by the tribe.

In exchange for the casinos, the tribe has offered to forgo its share of any monetary damages awarded by a court or from a negotiated settlement.

U.S. District Judge Neal McCurn of Syracuse has awarded the Oklahoma tribe and the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York $247.9 million in damages from the state. The two tribes are supported by the federal government, which has intervened in the case on their side.

McCurn determined that New York acquired the land without the congressional ratification required by a 1790 law. He entered his final judgment on damages March 11 and gave the parties 60 days to file a notice of appeal or resume settlement talks.

A spokesman for Pataki said the Oklahoma tribe's proposal is not likely to happen.

``Under federal law, it's clear we can only make a contract with a New York tribe,'' Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon told The Post-Standard of Syracuse. ``At this time, without that law being changed, this idea is going nowhere.''

The Oklahoma tribe has retained Wilmorite Inc. of Rochester, a shopping mall development company, to build the casinos if it gets the green light.

Also working against the casino proposal is opposition from New York-based tribes, including the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York, the main plaintiff in the Cayuga claim.

The Cayugas, Senecas, Oneidas and Mohawks have all urged state officials not to consider negotiating for land or gambling licenses with out-of-state tribes.

Tribal officials and their developer see it differently.

``Whomever is advising the governor is giving him bad advice,'' said Thomas Wilmot, of Wilmorite. ``Judge McCurn's rulings all state the Seneca-Cayugas have an interest in land in this state and can be considered an in-state tribe.''

A gaming law passed by the state Legislature last October allows up to six more casinos _ three exclusively for the western New York-based Seneca Indian Nation of New York, and three in the Catskills area for unspecified New York tribes. The Oklahoma tribe is not a party to the pending Seneca Indian land claim.

On Saturday, the Tribal Council of the Seneca Nation of Indians unanimously approved a compact with the state that would allow the tribe to operate casinos in Buffalo and Niagara Falls and possibly a third on a site to be determined later. The tribe's approximate 7,000 members will vote on the referendum May 14.