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Tribe, state miss deadline, Interior Dept. to act by mid-June 5-1-07

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - The Oneida Indian Nation and state of New York missed a deadline Monday for pushing ahead with negotiations on an agreement to allow continued operation of the tribe's Turning Stone Casino and Resort.

The two sides had until Monday to submit a joint request to postpone the U.S. Department of Interior's reconsideration of the casino's operating agreement. The federal government will now decide by June 14 whether to nullify its approval of the 1993 compact that allowed the Verona, N.Y., casino to open.

However, the state and nation wrote separate letters to the secretary of the interior arguing that the agency had no power to reconsider the agreement.

The Oneidas said the agreement is valid and cannot be revisited 14 years after it was first approved.

The state argued that the Interior Department cannot reconsider an agreement because it was never valid in the first place since it was not ratified by the state Legislature.

If the Turning Stone approval is withdrawn, the casino could be shut down. It employs more than 3,000 workers and is visited annually by more than 5 million people.

Three years ago, the National Indian Gaming Commission, which has the power to close Indian casinos, warned the Oneidas to resolve their differences with the state or risk unspecified “enforcement action.”

In the letter sent Monday, nation lawyer Michael Smith said the tribe has submitted a formal request for a new agreement under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and that the Interior Department should let the process run its course. The tribe also has applied to place more than 17,000 acres it owns into federal trust.

Smith said the state has demanded a 33 percent cut of Turning Stone revenues to sign a new agreement. That could mean payments of up to $50 million a year, based on casino revenues published in a recent federal report.

The Seneca Indian Nation pays the state 25 percent of its slot machine revenues at the tribe's two western New York casinos. The Oneidas share none of Turning Stone's revenues with the state.

Interior Department officials said they have never before reconsidered an approved casino agreement. The agency decided to review the Turning Stone compact after a series of court decisions ruling the agreement illegal because it was never approved by the state Legislature. The agency is also taking into account a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the tribe does not have sovereignty over the Turning Stone land.
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