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AKWESASNE, NY-Saying it feels betrayed by the recent deal between its development partner Empire Resorts Inc. and Concord Associates LP, a partnership led by Westchester County-based developer Louis Cappelli, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has officially shelved its planned $600-million casino at Monticello Raceway. Meanwhile, Empire Resorts, in response to the tribe’s decision to drop the casino venture, says it is “puzzled” by the tribe’s stance. In a statement released by Empire, the firm states that a provision in the Empire-Concord agreement calls for the parties to support the St. Regis Mohawk project at Monticello Raceway.

The clause in the contract states that “Concord is aware that, at a certain point in the future, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe may obtain all necessary licenses and approvals (the “Class III Licenses”) that shall be required to operate a Class III gaming facility on the Land in Trust Property. Concord hereby agrees to endorse the construction of a Class III gaming facility on the Land in Trust Property, and hereby agrees to support the tribe in its efforts to obtain the Class III Licenses. Concord acknowledges that Empire may plan and develop resort, hotel, entertainment and/or retail facilities on the Empire Land (the “Class III Actions”), and Concord hereby endorses the Class III Actions and the aforesaid development of the Empire Land.”

Empire officials say that per the agreement Concord Associates is required to provide $1 million for the master development of the property at Monticello Raceway. They add that “a plan for the entire 200 acres, including the Mohawk casino, was commissioned by Concord Associates in January 2008.”

The statement notes that “the company is perplexed by the tribe’s apparent emotional reaction. Empire had previously obtained the written agreement of the tribe to permit it to develop up to two additional tribal casinos in Sullivan County. In addition, the Concord facilities could have also been replicated at anytime at the Raceway site with Concord Associates. Why the tribe chose not to engage in a dialogue with Empire to extend the agreements that expired in 2007, which Empire had invited the tribe to do, cannot be explained by Empire,” company officials say. “It remains a puzzle to the company as to the underlying motives and strategy. Why would the tribe walk away from the Raceway site for yet a second time?”

The St. Regis Mohawk tribe states in a prepared release that it has notified the National Indian Gaming Commission as well as New York State officials and members of Congress of its official departure from the casino venture. In addition, the tribe states it has formally withdrawn its federal lawsuit against Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne who issued what now must be considered the probable deathblow to the project by rejecting the tribe’s land-into-trust application last month.

“We feel deeply betrayed by Empire Resorts and its management,” states tribal chief Lorraine White. “We have trusted and worked side-by-side with these people for three years overcoming one significant obstacle after another only to be stabbed in the back in the end.”

Tribal chief White says that to “add injury to insult” it has learned that Donald Trump, who had been actively opposed to the St. Regis Mohawk casino venture in the past, could possibly be involved in the Empire-Concord Associates gaming resort to be developed at the Concord Hotel about three miles away from the Monticello Raceway property. Cappelli, in a telephone interview with GlobeSt.com, confirms that the Empire-Concord Associates partnership is in discussions with Trump about the project. Concord Associates holds an 8.5% stake in Empire Resorts.

“The question that begs is, do you really think that Louis Cappelli and Donald Trump would later roll out the welcome mat for the Mohawks and our Las Vegas style casino to compete alongside their proposed entertainment city and VLT parlor?” chief White asks. “We think not.”

Earlier this week, Empire and Concord Associates LP, reached an agreement for a $700-million hotel/resort gaming complex at the Concord Hotel. The agreement calls for the current video gaming machines facility or “racino” as well as the harness racing track at Monticello Raceway to move to a 160-acre site on the grounds of the Concord Hotel. Concord Associates is the owner of the famed Concord Hotel property. The plan also involves the development of approximately 1.5 million sf of gaming, hotel and entertainment space. As proposed, the project would feature a 100,000-sf gaming facility that would house approximately 1,500 video gaming machines, a convention center, a hotel, golf, retail stores, restaurants and family entertainment uses. The gaming facility would be built inside what is currently projected to be a 500-room hotel, although Empire-Concord could build as many as 1,500 rooms.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council believes that it could have prevailed in having the Secretary of Interior’s ruling reversed either in federal court or with a change in presidential administration in 2009. Since its announcement of its partnership at the Concord with the Cappelli led group, Empire officials stressed the firm was supportive of the St. Regis Mohawks and was not abandoning the casino project at Monticello Raceway.

However, St. Regis Mohawk tribal chief Barbara Lazore says that while the tribe is evaluating its next steps, she adds, “but this we know for sure: the marriage with Empire is over.”

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