ALBANY, NY-A Native American casino venture that was nearing construction several months ago, only to be dashed when land claim litigation talks stalled, has resurfaced once again. On Thursday, the Cayuga Nation of New York and New York State signed a formal settlement agreement concerning a land claim dispute over property in the Finger Lakes that had dragged on for more than two decades.

Back in August, when the Cayuga Nation of New York and its development partner Empire Resorts Inc. appeared poised to break ground on the $500-million Cayuga Catskill Resort project, talks on the land claim settlement agreement broke down. However, with Thursday’s announcement that a settlement agreement had been reached, the gaming facility at Monticello Raceway appears to be back in front and the likely first casino project to break ground in the Catskills. The Cayuga Nation is awaiting approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs on a land in trust agreement in connection with the gaming facility project.

Congress and the New York State Legislature must ratify the settlement agreement signed by Gov. George Pataki and Cayuga Nation of New York Representative Clint Halftown. “The agreement will allow us to move forward with plans to establish a second casino in the Catskills, which would create thousands of new jobs and provide a tremendous boost to the region’s economy,” says Pataki. “Our agreement would also establish retail tax parity between Cayuga and non-Cayuga vendors, which demonstrates again that we can achieve parity with the Indian nations in a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation.”

Last week, the state and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, which was a party in the same land claim dispute, reached a settlement agreement. Empire Resorts, which announced earlier this week it had struck a deal to acquire the Concord and Grossingers resort properties in Sullivan County to build a gaming facility for the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, can now more forward on the Monticello gaming project as well.

Robert Berman, chief executive officer of Empire Resorts, says the two settlement agreements, “have provided Empire with the unique opportunity to partner with these tribes to develop two Native American casinos just 90 miles from New York City.”

Morad Tahbaz, president of Empire Resorts adds, “We plan to move forward expeditiously to complete the arrangements for these projects, with the goal of having them both open by the end of 2006.

Most construction industry observers believe the projects would take about 18 months to complete, which would require the ventures to break ground by June 2005 if the company’s timetable were to be met. While the Cayuga Nation of New York’s facility will be built near Monticello Raceway, an Empire Resorts official said the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma’s casino development will be built on the Concord resort property in the Town of Thompson. Earlier this year, Empire Resorts, the owner of the Monticello harness race track, opened the $24-million “Mighty M Gaming,” facility that features 1,743 video gaming machines.

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