Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe Zeroing In On Sullivan County

MONTICELLO, N.Y. (CBS 2) — There was a roll of the dice up in the Catskills on Monday night as the State of New York tried to fashion a new casino deal for the blighted region.

Many are betting on it.

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Governor David Paterson put pen to paper on a deal that makes a Catskill Indian casino possible, not a done deal but a big step toward making it so, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young.

“This casino is not a guarantee, but it is the closest we’ve come so far,” Sen. Charles Schumer said.

A land claim settlement with a Wisconsin-based tribe could pave the way for federal approval of an ambitious casino along the Neversink River.

Tribal council leaders for the Stockbridge-Munsees said they’ve been trying to return to New York for more than 200 years.

“Sullivan County is your home and it was our home for thousands of years. Our tribe has always been a faithful steward of the land. We are, after all, the people of the waters that are never still,” tribe president Kimberly Vele told Young.

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This is happening in a landscape of poverty and neglect two hours north of New York City. Where borsht-belt comedians and pop singers once performed for vacationing city dwellers is now a dreary place to visit.

For every place that remains open a dozen are shuttered, their glory days long gone. Casino gambling has been touted as an economic solution to this region’s problems for longer than most residents have been alive. Many people simply cannot believe it this time.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” resident Phyllis Walker said when asked if the region needs a casino.

But Walker bristled when asked if she thinks it will become a reality.

“No, because it’s been shut down so many times before,” she said.

“Even if I saw it I would have to see it in operations. Even if the structure was there I don’t think I would believe it … even though it’s open and I can go inside … touch and feel it so to speak,” added resident Tom Lebofe.

The casino proposal is now hands of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

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The area already has a Yonkers-style “racino” at the Monticello Raceway. Operators there have expressed concern that a full-blown casino at the road could put them out of business.