ALBANY, NY-Fresh off new land claim settlement agreements with two Native American Indian tribes hoping to develop casinos in Sullivan County, Governor George Pataki told reporters he will ask the State Legislature to increase the number of permitted Indian casinos in the Catskills from three to five.

The reaction to the governor’s proposal was mixed. A spokesman for a business group that has advocated casino development in the Catskills was supportive of the increase, while a Republican Senator broke with the Republican governor and said that any increase from three to five casinos should be put to a public referendum.

On Tuesday, the state had reached an agreement with the Oneida Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians on long-standing land claim disputes that could pave the way for both tribes to develop casinos in Sullivan County on land off of Route 17.

Last month, New York State announced land claim settlement agreements with the Cayuga Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, which plan to build gaming facilities at Monticello Raceway and at the Concord hotel property in the Town of Thompson respectively.

A fifth player in the race to build gaming facilities in the former Borscht Belt is the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, which has a proposed land claim settlement agreement pending approval, according to state officials. The St. Regis Mohawks plan to build a casino on vacant land in the Town of Thompson.

Pataki noted that the State Legislature several years ago approved a bill that called for the development of three casinos in either Sullivan or Ulster counties. “We have now reached compacts with more than that and I believe five would be an appropriate number,” he said.

Henry Bunce, president of the Catskill Casino Coalition, said that the five casinos are market driven and that the governor is responding to the proposals now in the pipeline. He believes that at least one or more casinos will break ground by this coming June. The pro-casino organization is expected to formally endorse Pataki’s bill to increase the number of casinos that could be developed in the region at a meeting next week.

State Senator John Bonacic, whose 42nd District covers the Catskill region, issued a statement criticizing the Pataki plan that at the time was the subject of conjecture in Albany. “There is speculation in Albany that legislation will be proposed to expand the amount of Native American casinos authorized in Sullivan and Ulster counties from three to five. I am opposed to that expansion without a referendum of the people.”

“The governor, for more than three years has had the authority to negotiate a compact to allow for up to three casinos in Sullivan and Ulster counties,” Sen. Bonacic added. “To date, for various reasons, not one has opened. Before we authorize more than three casinos, we should see the first three started, and then only allow more than three to be built in the Catskills if the people of the county where the additional casinos would go authorize that in a referendum.”

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