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Paterson inks land deal with Wisconsin tribe

MONTICELLO - Gov. David A. Paterson yesterday signed a land settlement with a Wisconsin tribe that could give New York State leaders something they have been trying to get for decades: a casino within day-tripping distance of the lucrative New York City market.

The deal to settle a decades-old land claim by the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans in central New York's Madison County comes in exchange for state support of a tribal casino about 100 miles northwest of New York City.

The deal's ultimate approval is no sure bet. It faces federal scrutiny and likely legal challenges, and it follows a long line of promised Catskill casino proposals that went bust.

If approved, the casino could compete with ones in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Casino proponents in the Catskills hope it could bring back some glory from its tourist heyday, when the area was a prime summer destination for Jewish families from the New York City area.

Catskill casino proponents began looking to Indian tribes after efforts to amend the state constitution to legalize casino gambling fizzled. In 2008, the Bush administration's Department of Interior rejected plans for Catskill casinos involving the St. Regis Mohawks of northern New York and the Stockbridge-Munsee, citing the great distance between the two tribes' reservations and the casino sites.

The Stockbridge-Munsee are trying a different route, this time joining the casino deal with the land-claim settlement. Paterson says that under the deal, the tribe will end its claim to 23,000 acres in Madison County, while getting 330 acres in Sullivan County, where the tribe wants to build a casino.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) supports the deal, which could improve its chances before the Obama administration. But it could face other hurdles. By proposing the development by the Neversink River, Paterson is "virtually inviting litigation," said Mark Izeman, director of the New York Urban Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

It also could face challenges from other Indian tribes, many of which have their own land claims and casinos.

Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter yesterday criticized a deal he said was hammered out in secret and of dubious legality. He said the Oneidas, who run a successful casino in central New York, were reviewing their options.

"This isn't going to work. It's an unworkable plan, which is not uncommon with the governor of this state," Halbritter said. "There are too many issues."

A Catskills casino also would compete with state-sanctioned "racinos" featuring video lottery terminals, such as one just miles away in Monticello, another in Yonkers and the recently approved one at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.

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