The agreement announced Tuesday between New York state and the St. Regis Mohawk tribe over sharing revenue from its casino operations at Akwesasne leaves several issues unresolved and raises questions that have yet to be answered.
In their pact, the Mohawks agreed to pay the state $30 million of the $59 million owed under the terms of their original gaming compact. The Mohawks have been withholding the states 25 percent share of slot machine revenue since 2010 because the state has tolerated an illegal casino operation by the Ganienkeh Mohawks in Altona. That is contrary to the St. Regis Mohawks exclusive right to operate a casino within an eight-county region in Northern New York.
The remaining $29 million due the state will be placed in escrow pending resolution of the tribes land claims that have been in the courts for more than 30 years. Negotiations are suppose to begin soon but will be complicated by the tribes pursuit of free SUNY tuition for tribe members, a $2 million annual payment from the New York Power Authority for the next 35 years and 9 megawatts of low-cost NYPA power.
Some local officials within the disputed land claims territory have expressed reasonable concerns about the possible loss of land and property taxes in any future settlement. Both sides hail the start of negotiations as progress, but talks could drag on for years. In the meantime, the tribe holds onto $29 million owed the state until land claim negotiations are satisfactorily completed. When those issues are resolved, the state has agreed not to locate additional casinos in Northern New York.
Officials in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties desperate for financial assistance must be relieved that they will receive a combined $7.5 million from the states share of the overdue $30 million payment as well as 25 percent of future revenue-sharing payments to the state. However, the formula could change.
The Albany Times Union reported that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the Mohawk tribal governments exclusivity payments could be reduced if the casino and bingo hall run by the Ganienkeh Mohawks continues to operate. The New York Times reported similar comments. That understanding, though, was not included in the announcement of the agreement on the governors website. Gov. Cuomo did not say what will happen with the Ganienkeh operation, which the state has done nothing to close at the risk of a deadly confrontation.
Additionally, the agreement is silent about cigarette taxes and other untaxed sales to non-Indians. In contrast, the Oneida Nation agreed to a policy that brings the price of gasoline, tobacco and other products sold by the tribe closer to prices charged by non-Indian retailers, who have to collect state and local sales taxes.
The agreement with the Oneidas is more comprehensive . It ended decades of litigation over their land claims, tax disputes and other long-running issues that had generated animosity on both sides.
The pact brought finality. The Oneidas, the state and neighboring communities can move on now that they have put their differences behind them.
The St. Regis Mohawk pact is a fresh start to a flawed relationship between the parties.
The unresolved issues rightfully concern local leaders, who wonder what will happen if the new round of negotiations fail. But if there is failure, the Mohawks face the loss of their exclusive right to operate casinos in the north country.