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Upstate casino widens tribal rifts

ALBANY -- A group of Mohawks has quietly opened a casino on the tribe's reservation along New York's northern border with some 400 electronic gambling machines and plans to expand and host poker games, drawing criticism from tribal leaders responsible for the established casino and bingo hall located nearby.

The Three Feathers Casino operates in a commercial building six miles down Route 37 from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, which has electronic slot machines and table games under a state compact. The new venture is separate and has no similar state or federal approvals.

Three Feathers organizers, from the Men's Council of the People of the Way of the Long House, say they established their own gaming commission last year that set regulations. "By no means is anyone looking for any confrontation," spokesman Chaz Kader said, adding that would be negative for everyone on the reservation.

Kader cited economic development efforts and plans to use 20 percent to 25 percent of revenue to support the Long House, including help for elders in the community, as reasons for opening Three Feathers.

"It's employing over 100 of our local people," he said.

Open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight, it began operating July 13, has had incremental increases in customers and had 500 visitors its second Sunday, Kader said. There's no alcohol, but smoking is allowed.

The Akwesasne casino, with some 1,600 Las Vegas-style slot machines and 22 table games including blackjack, craps, roulette and poker, is operated around the clock by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe under a New York compact that calls for sharing 25 percent of profits from the electronic slot machines with the state.

St. Regis tribal officials said the only two "legitimate" gaming properties in Akwesasne are their casino and their Mohawk Bingo Palace, noting regulatory oversight by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Gaming Commission along with the National Indian Gaming Commission.

On a reservation with factions and some history of tensions, including over whether the original casino should have opened in 1999, the new enterprise drew criticism from the tribal government responsible for the first casino and bingo hall, saying their profits already support programs for tribal members.

"The unlicensed gaming facility cannot compare to our legal casinos in terms of safety, gaming integrity and regulatory oversight," St. Regis Tribal Chief Mark Garrow said.

In a statement, the St. Regis tribal government said the new casino's suppliers, operators and financiers had not undergone background checks in accordance with the federal law and are all under investigation.

Men's Council members told KahnawakeNews.Com that their gaming regulations meet or exceed the others and they'd like to see all casinos on Mohawk territory follow them.

Kader said the regulations are based on the foundational great law of peace, considered a superseding document to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Charter, that can apply to other areas and that specifies revenue sharing and doesn't include the state compact.

"As the public becomes more confident with this extra venue, we've seen word-of-mouth and satisfied gaming players liked what they saw and would be back," Kader said.

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