By Ken Davison
The St. Regis Mohawk´s application for an Indian casino in the Catskill Mountains in New York was denied by the federal government two years ago but they have not lost hope as tribal members voted 538-371 in a referendum Saturday to continue pursuing a casino at Sullivan Raceway in the Catskills.
The Tribe voted against continuing with the Catskills casino project in a referendum held last November by a vote of 178-140 but those results were thrown out because prior notice of the referendum was not made for the required 30 days.
The Tribe´s partner, Empire Resorts, saw its stock fall 20 percent after last November´s referendum. The Tribe´s project is to have 29 acres taken into trust by the federal government as reservation land to build a $500 million resort casino with Empire Resorts, which owns the Monticello Raceway in the Catskills.
The Tribe is required to hold three public meetings prior to a referendum but held eight meetings on the Catskills casino issue. The informational campaigns for and against the Catskills casino project included letters to the editor in northern New York´s Watertown Daily Times.
The question on Saturday´s ballot was "Do you approve the Tribe pursuing off-reservation gaming in the Catskills?"
The St. Regis Mohawk´s proposed casino was one of 11 off-reservation casino applications that were rejected by the Interior Department two years ago under controversial guidelines established by the Bush Administration that held that the distance from the reservation to the proposed off-reservation casino was not a commutable distance.
The Obama administration is reviewing those off-reservation guidelines established under the Bush administration and a change to those guidelines, a reversal of its earlier denial, is key for the Mohawk casino to come to fruition in the Catskills.
The St. Regis Mohawk´s plans, now about 15 years old, have significant political backing. US Senator Charles Schumer continues to support the proposed casino along with recent governors.
The results of Saturday´s referendum vote will be certified within five days if no appeal is filed.
Editorial Note - At close of business on the day before last November´s vote, Empire Resorts, Inc. (NYNY-Nasdaq) stock was $3.01. The following Monday, after the Tribe´s members voted against the Catskill casino project the stock of Empire fell 20 percent to 2.41 in heavy trading, fell another 10 percent on the following day in even heavier trading before finishing the week down 20 percent.
Empire´s stock closed at 2.26 this past Friday, January 29, in its fourth highest volume trading day this year and is due to go higher today. If you buy it, cash out fast because Empire is a dog based on its financial statements, it loses money year after year on its racetrack-VLT slot parlor ($12 million loss in 2008, $26 million loss in 2007), defaulted on a bank loan last summer and its financial future hinges on a Mohawk casino that may never be built. Last year´s SEC 10K filing by Empire noted, ¨Much of our ability to develop a successful business is now dependent on the success or failure of our ability to develop our interests in the Catskills region of the State of New York.¨
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