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Column: Tribal issues face new New York governor

"Here's one thing that won't change on Day One of the new Spitzer administration: New York will still be wrestling with the thorny and complicated issues of Native American casinos, land-claim lawsuits and tax-free cigarette sales.

And with what to do about Turning Stone, the Oneida Nation casino near Utica.

The tangled issues have been sitting untouched for more than a year. They were back in the news last week as the U.S. Supreme Court and a New York state court effectively killed separate lawsuits on the casino and on tax-free sales of cigarettes and gasoline on Indian reservations.

The court actions were just the latest in a series of twists since Gov. George Pataki and the Legislature agreed to greatly expand gambling in New York just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. With the economy tumbling, lawmakers approved measures to sanction three Native-American-run casinos in Western New York and three in the Catskills. So far, just two in Western New York have been built.

At issue are Turning Stone and other casinos authorized for the Catskills region, millions of dollars of land claims made by various tribes and the state's ability to collect taxes on goods sold on reservations.

In 2005, Pataki, a Republican, announced a tentative agreement with five tribes to end a range of land-claim lawsuits and build five Catskill casinos. The state government would have been in line for 20-25 percent of slot-machine revenues at the casinos.

But the deal was effectively canceled in June that year when a federal court threw out a $248 million land-claim judgment for the Cayuga Indians, saying that the tribe essentially waited too long to sue. That action followed a similar U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Oneidas in their attempt to reacquire reservation lands.

The Cayugas' attorney, as well as some state legislators, called the ruling a �death knell� for Native American land claims."

Get the Story:
Yancey Roy: Native American issues will remain with new leadership (Gannett News Service 12/18)

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