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Catkills’ Off-Reservation Casino Plans Allowed
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Catkills’ Off-Reservation Casino Plans Allowed

A rule put forward to prevent Indian tribes from constructing casinos in areas away from their reservations has been taken down by the Obama administration. Within Catskills, there is now hope that casino gambling can begin in the region.

In February 2011, the US Department of the Interior rejected plans from the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe to build the first proper casino in Hudson Valley. At that time, it was stated that the state would lose about $400 annual gaming revenue.

The “Commutability Rule”

The latest announcement goes against the commutability rule, which was brought in by Dirk Kempthorne, the Interior Secretary in 2008. The regulation stipulated that if a casino was built further from a reservation than was a feasible commuting distance, then this would be detrimental to the tribe. This was because tribe members would then move away to seek employment.

The rule was used by Kempthorne at the beginning of 2008, when he disallowed the go-ahead for two Indian casinos from The Stockbridge Munsee of Wisconsin and the St. Regis Mohawks of northern New York, which would have been built in Catskills. He used the fact that they would be set up too far away from the reservations and therefore, would be bad for the tribe by enticing members to seek work elsewhere.

The Mohawks disputed his argument at that time, explaining that for generations ironworkers from their tribe had had to travel long distances to build in the surrounding cities, including New York, where they constructed skyscrapers. All this time they continued to live in their reservations that were based along the border from New York to Canada.

A Positive Turning Point

Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, declared the move at the National Congress of American Indians to tribal leaders in Milwaukee. He did not view the commutability rule as reasonable. He stated that, “The 2008 guidance memorandum was unnecessary and was issued without the benefit of tribal consultation. We will proceed to process off-reservation gaming applications in a transparent manner, consistent with existing law.”

Ironically, the casinos have been received with jubilation due to the fact that there are hopes that the casinos will create new jobs. Tony Cellini, Thompson Town Supervisor, explained, “This is just a step in the right direction for jobs that are desperately needed.”

New York officials, including the US Senator Charles Schumer, have supported this view. Schumer commented, “Today’s announcement cracks open a previously locked door and presents a renewed opportunity to pursue a Catskills casino.”

Casino Construction

In order for a tribe to build an off-reservation casino or gambling facility, there are a number of federal regulations to which the tribe must comply. For example, the land must be obtained in trust through the Department of the Interior, in that it will be beneficial for the tribe, the state governor must agree to its construction, the public should be allowed to share their views, and a tribal-state gaming compact must be entered into.

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