MONTICELLO, N.Y. — While the plan to bring an Indian casino to Sullivan County still needs to overcome a number of major obstacles, the project reached a significant milestone on Friday (Aug. 17) when the Sullivan County government signed a compensation agreement pledging its support for the $500-million venture.

In exchange for its support for the project, the agreement commits the casino/resort to make annual payments of $15 million to Sullivan County and other affected local governments. Members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, Sullivan County government and officials with Park Place were on hand for the contract signing ceremony early Friday morning at the Sullivan County Office Building in Monticello.

The agreement, which was ratified by the Sullivan County Legislature, also calls for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to utilize union labor for the construction of the casino resort. In addition, the tribe agrees to not oppose efforts by the hotel and restaurant employees to unionize as well as facilitate space at the complex to promote Sullivan County tourism.

Park Place officials estimate that the hotel/casino resort, to be located at the Kutsher’s hotel site in the town of Thompson, will cost approximately $500 million to develop. It will include 750 hotel rooms, 120,000 sf of casino space, four restaurants, a 3,000-space parking garage as well as other amenities.

“This agreement provides the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe with the official support and commitment of the county that is necessary to complete the Land In To Trust process. We are confident that the agreement adequately addresses all impacts that the casino/resort will have in Sullivan County,” says the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Chief Hilda Smoke. She later added that the tribe hopes to obtain all the necessary approvals in order to open the doors to the facility sometime in 2003.

Chuck Miller, vice president, Park Place Entertainment, and its on-site representative notes, “This agreement is a milestone achievement, and we are proud to be a part of the partnership that has come so far in this quest to bring a resort/casino to the Catskills. Park Place looks forward to continuing to partner with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the people of Sullivan County. We want to contribute to the community and hope for the community’s active support as we work to move forward in Albany.”

The project still needs the go-ahead from the Pataki administration, the state Legislature, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Indian Gaming Commission and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Approvals from New York State could get caught up in the current acrimonious budget battle in New York State. In early August, the State Legislature passed a $79.6 base-line billion budget over the objections of Governor George Pataki. On August 16, the governor filed suit against the State Legislature charging that the approved budget was “unconstitutional.”

In terms of Indian gaming in New York State, the governor’s office has approved a deal with the Seneca Indian Nation for three casinos in the troubled Western New York. However, talks are still ongoing between the St. Regis Mohawks and Pataki for approval for the casino at the Kutsher’s site. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office has said that the legislative approval of the Seneca Indian tribe’s casinos in Western New York should be packaged with the casino in the Catskills. Pataki, while supportive of casino gaming in the Catskills, has not stated whether the Catskill project would be presented to the State Legislature with the Seneca Indian sites.

Another obstacle is a multi-billion dollar breach of contract lawsuit stemming from a failed attempt to develop a casino gaming facility at Monticello Raceway for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Officials with Park Place and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe say that the litigation will not have any impact on the approval process to get the casino/resort built at the Kutsher’s property.

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