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Senate committee: Indian casinos owe New York state police millions for security, other services
By John Mariani / The Post-Standard
February 04, 2010, 3:04PM
Albany, NY -- A quest by some state lawmakers to bring uncollected cigarette taxes from Native American nations into New York’s struggling coffers has expanded to include unpaid fees some nations owe the state police.
Three Indian nations operating five casinos owe the state police Gaming Detail more than $55.9 million for security work the state does at their casinos, Sen. Craig Johnson, D-Nassau County, revealed last week at a hearing of the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee, which he chairs. Some of the debts go back 10 years.
The Seneca Nation’s Niagara Falls casino owed the most, $22.8 million, followed by that nation’s gaming house in Salamanca with a $18.1 million debt, according to a list provided to Johnson by the Gaming Detail. The Niagara Falls and Salamanca units also cover the Seneca Nation’s Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, the Gaming Detail’s Web page says.
The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, operated by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, was next with $14.3 million due to the state police, a debt it began accumulating as early as the third quarter of the state’s 1999-2000 fiscal year, the list showed.
The Oneida Indian Nation, operator of the Turning Stone Casino outside Verona, was last on the list with an arrears of $739,000, due for the quarter that began Oct. 1, 2009.
Oneida Indian Nation spokesman Mark Emery said officials had just received the bill for the quarter on Jan. 26, the day of the Investigations and Government Operations hearing. The bill is being reviewed by nation finance officials, normal procedure before payment is made, he said. The Oneidas always pay their state police bill in full, he said.
The Gaming Detail units perform background checks on all casino employees and vendors who do business with the gambling houses, as required by the state’s gaming compacts with the nations. They also provide a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week presence at the casinos.
At Turning Stone, the troopers also perform policing duties, working with Oneida Indian Nation security forces, the sheriff’s departments of Oneida and Madison counties, state police Troop D in Oneida and the FBI.
Johnson opened the issue as his committee continued its efforts to learn how the state can collect the tax money from tobacco sales at the nations.
How much tobacco tax money is owed is unclear. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Carl Kruger, D-Brooklyn, has said industry official estimate the total figure in excess of $1 billion and perhaps as high at $1.6 billion.
If Paterson’s policy of achieving a settlement with the nations through lawsuits and negotiations bears fruit, the number is likely to be much lower, said Morgan Hook, speaking for Gov. David Paterson. State officials also are unsure when they can implement a 2008 law, now jammed in the courts, that would collect tobacco taxes at the wholesale level, rather than the retail level, he said.
Without knowing the outcome of those efforts, he said, Paterson budget officials could not calculate how much revenue to count on from Native American tobacco sales in the proposed 2010-11 budget, a sticking point with Johnson and other lawmakers.
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