Calling the governor’s bluff

On the basis of comments by Governor Pataki’s Indian Affairs Advisor Greg Allen in his presentation at the Sullivan County Legislature, it appears that the people of Sullivan County are being given only two choices with regard to the casino issue. We can have either five casinos, or none. The reason given is that federal approval of off-reservation casinos is only likely if the deal settles all Indian land claims pending against the State of New York at one blow.

In a county where feelings on the casino issue range widely from fears that even one casino will completely destroy our quality of life to a conviction that we are doomed to economic extinction without as many casinos as possible, this is a particularly unpalatable choice.

The danger is that the legislature will be stampeded into accepting the five-casino alternative. Although popular opinion in Sullivan County appears to be strongly against five casinos, we are much more closely divided as to whether we ought to have at least one. In addition, legislators may be swayed by developers’ arguments that even if five casinos are approved, it doesn’t mean they’ll all be built, as the market will not support that many.

According to this line of thinking, we should choose the five-casino option while crossing our fingers and hoping that we don’t actually get what we’ve chosen.

But this is scarcely a sensible decision-making strategy. The fact that the tribes in question are willing to accept the right to build casinos here as settlement for millions of dollars of claims suggests that they are a lot more determined to follow through on their plans than the above argument would indicate. We should not choose five casinos unless that’s exactly what we’re prepared to get. And given that county consultants have estimated that the costs of even one casino would far outweigh the $15 million revenue it would bring in, we cannot afford the risk of being hit with such a deficit multiplied by five.

The good news is that the position with which the state and its representatives have confronted us is almost certainly an initial negotiating ploy, not a final offer. If we cave in immediately to the “five” option, the game is over, and we will have no choice but to accept the full consequences of intensive casino development. In contrast, if the Sullivan County Legislature comes back with a reply of “none,” it is highly unlikely that New York State and the various tribes will simply throw in the towel and go away. Much more likely, they will come back to the negotiating table with a deal somewhere in the middle.

The county legislature owes something to all the people it represents, and that means the many who oppose casinos as well as those who support them. It should not let itself be diverted from its duty to its constituents by a state government seeking to make a lightly populated county hundreds of miles from the actual land claimed pay the reparations owed by millions of New Yorkers.

Nor should it let itself be pressured by out-of-county interests hoping to capitalize on casino building here, whether businesses or union members such as those who reportedly packed the hall last Friday. To those who live here, the “all or nothing” alternative is quite simply unacceptable. The best way for the legislature to make that clear is to call the state’s bluff and say simply: “None.” Then let’s take a look at their real cards.




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Dr. Punnybone



The Abdominable Snowman

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Balanced on the back of Sullivan County

To the editor:

Does it seem reasonable that Sullivan County should assume the state’s obligation for Indian land claims, gratis?

After listening to Governor Pataki’s representative last Friday, January 7, speak before the county legislators, I think we are being manipulated!—or swindled! This is a big shell game. We are, if we are so foolish, to grant Indian reservations here, to the Indians tribes, with nothing in return from the state.

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