Thursday, December 6, 2007

St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court Ruling Upheld

By Ken Davison

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe could reap billions from a casino that was never built.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York denied a motion by a subsidiary of Harrah’s Entertainment, which sought to dismiss about $3 billion in judgments issued against them by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court for interfering with the Tribe’s planned casino in the Catskill Mountains in New York. Park Place but was the company that is alleged to have interfered but Harrah’s bought out Caesars, who had previously bought out Park Place.

At the time a key federal approval was received for the Catskills casino, Park Place allegedly induced chiefs of the tribe to switch casino management companies, which forced the tribe to begin the federal application process over again and resulted in an aborted casino project. The plaintiffs state that a casino would have been built had Park Place not interfered.

Harrah’s never showed up in tribal court so a default judgment for about $1.8 billion was issued against them. Since then, the tribal court has added about $1 billion in interest costs and reimbursement for court house postage costs, bringing the total to about $3 billion.

Former New York State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco, a trustee for an entity representing the plaintiffs, commented “We are pleased with this ruling denying Harrah's motion to dismiss the complaint. The Tribe deserves to have its institutions respected and also deserves to have the decisions of the Tribal Court honored by the federal courts."

The tribe is still seeking to build a casino in the Catskills and is now waiting for land it owns there to be placed into federal trust.

The St. Regis Mohawks filed a federal lawsuit last month to compel Secretary of the Interior Dick Kempthorne to to put about 30 acres into federal trust for its proposed casino in the Catskills. The lawsuit asked the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to order Kempthorne to make a decision on the tribe's application within 30 days. The tribe alleges that Kempthorne's personal opposition to off-reservation gaming is interfering with his legal responsibilities. When Kempthorne was the governor of Idaho, he was opposed to off-reservation casinos.

Kempthorne has been reported as saying that if he approves one of the off-reservation casino applications, then he has to approve them all.