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MONTICELLO, NY-Officials with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe issued some hot responses earlier this month to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s denial of a land into trust application for its proposed $600-million gaming facility at Monticello Raceway here. They are now keeping the heat on by filing a lawsuit seeking to reverse the ruling.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and its development partner Empire Resorts Inc. of Las Vegas jointly revealed on Friday that the tribe filed a lawsuit against the Department of Interior and Secretary Kempthorne and others in US District Court in New York City. Officials with the tribe promised a lawsuit would be forthcoming after it received a letter from the Department of Interior on Jan. 4 rejecting its application, killing its casino plan unless a court or a new administration decide to reverse the ruling. The Department of Interior and Secretary Kempthorne were unable to be reached for comment prior to press deadline.

Earlier this month Secretary Kempthorne sent out 11 denial letters to Indian Tribes seeking land into trust application approvals for gaming facilities across the US, including three tribes in New York State–the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe. The Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohicans is seeking to build a casino in Sullivan County, while the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe wants to build a gaming facility in Cayuga County. Kempthorne denied the applications stating that the gaming sites were too far from the tribes’ respective reservations. The tribes received denial letters authored by Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Interior James E. Cason, who was also named in the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s federal lawsuit.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe alleges in its complaint that the Secretary’s decision was “not only arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion, but also has no basis in law and constitutes an abuse of his position as Secretary.” The tribe also charges that Secretary Kempthorne ignored prior approvals granted the project by his own department as well as approvals from New York State.

“The Secretary decided to simply rewrite the law to suit his own purpose, without consulting Congress,” says Empire Resorts CEO Dave Hanlon. “What we have in this instance is a Secretary who has attempted to devise a way to circumvent federal law by creating new federal guidelines for existing fee-to-trust applications.

Empire Resorts officials add that in addition to the lawsuit, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is in discussions with other tribes to explore additional legal action and as well as calling for oversight hearings by the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs to call attention to the Department of the Interior’s “complete lack of consultation with Indian tribes on the new federal regulations introduced by the department, and the failure to give fair notice of the new requirements.”

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