New York State Governor David Paterson holds a town hall...

New York State Governor David Paterson holds a town hall meeting in downtown Brooklyn to discuss the budget. (March 8, 2010) Credit: Charles Eckert

With plans for a Catskills casino expected to be announced as soon as Monday, the field of prospective gaming sites could start to expand in downstate New York, even as casinos in some neighboring markets have been battered by the economic downturn.

New York Gov. David A. Paterson could announce a plan for the state to work with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans of Wisconsin to open a casino in Bridgeville in Sullivan County, 90 miles from New York City. A Paterson spokeswoman last week acknowledged a deal was in the works as part of an agreement to settle a centuries-old land claim with the tribe.

Paterson last week called any potential casino deal in Sullivan County "a huge economic development" benefit, adding, "This is the reason we pursued the negotiations."

The news of a possible Indian casino in Sullivan County caught the Shinnecock Indian Nation off guard. The tribe, which received formal federal recognition Oct. 1, has been seeking for months to negotiate a compact, or legal agreement to build a casino, with the Paterson administration.

Shinnecock tribal chairman Randy King on Friday expressed "surprise" at the Stockbridge announcement. He added, "I'm confident [state officials] will act just as expeditiously with us as they apparently have with the Stockbridge-Munsee band."

The Shinnecocks have been trying for months to get Paterson's support to move ahead on a gaming compact for as many as three Long Island casinos. While the tribe has reviewed numerous sites, the Shinnecock have yet to settle on any single location - a prerequisite for a compact.

Gaming analysts say the downstate New York market is so underserved that one in the Catskills could prosper alongside any facility the Shinnecock Indian Nation might open on Long Island over the next several years.

The Catskills "is a great location," said Clyde Barrow, a gaming and public policy analyst at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, of a potential Catskills facility. He said he wouldn't expect it to impact any future Shinnecock facility, because the New York City market doesn't have a casino with a full complement of table games.

At present, the nearest facility is a racino, which features video slots, but not table games like blackjack, at Yonkers Raceway. Another such racino was recently approved for Aqueduct Raceway.

Barrow said he expects any new New York gambling facilities to impact already battered Atlantic City and Connecticut casinos, which have seen steady financial declines since 2006. Connecticut casinos saw revenue decline to $1.448 billion last year, from $1.734 billion in 2006, according to the American Gaming Association, a Washington D.C.-based trade organization. New Jersey casinos saw a 13.3 percent decline during the same period.

Barrow estimated that 20 percent of the Mohegan Sun's revenue comes from New Yorkers, while 10 percent of Foxwoods' does. Both Connecticut casinos, he said, have seen annual revenue declines of around $200 million since the 2006 peak.

But those figures do not appear to intimidate Shinnecock backers, who say the population base in and around New York City and Long Island is so large and underserved that the market is considered wide open.

Mike Malik, managing partner for Detroit, Michigan-based Gateway, which is backing the Shinnecocks' efforts, blamed declines in Connecticut on excessive expansion.

"Some casinos in other markets expanded and overbuilt during the economic boom and have not been able to sustain the same levels of business during difficult economic times," Malik said in a statement.

The Shinnecocks agree. "This is the biggest market in the world," said Lance Gumbs, a Shinnecock tribal trustee, adding the tribe "absolutely" believes Long Island will do well, despite a regional downturn.

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