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Opinion: Columnists

Ron Arnold: NIMBY New Yorkers don't want any Indian casino near them

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,New York,Native Americans

An old trivia game among bureaucracy-watchers is to guess what preposterous reason some official has invented to stop economic development. The game reached a new high of gobbledygook this week, when Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, urging it to deny a tribal request to build a casino-hotel complex on its 230-acre site in Seneca and Cayuga counties because it "would harm Upstate New York's local tax base, its businesses, and its future economic development."

Notwithstanding the fact that a casino-hotel operation is itself a fairly substantial economic development employing hundreds of locals, Schumer issued a release pointing up every negative he could think of, leading with a snide we-don't-want-your-kind-around-here notice that "the tribe is 'out-of-state.' "

That's true. It's the federally recognized tribe of Seneca and Cayuga, based near Grove, Okla. Federal recognition includes "Native American self-determination," which is a type of sovereignty known as "domestic dependent nations" -- a sort of "sovereign within a sovereign" status, with the United States holding ultimate power. Federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, sometimes treat tribal petitions on a nation-to-nation footing, and advocates argue that tribal contacts should be handled by the secretary of state.

So what's an Oklahoma tribe doing in New York? Both the Seneca and Cayuga people traditionally lived there -- the Seneca near Canandaigua Lake and the Cayuga around Cuba Lake. Both were members of the original Five Nations of the Iroquois. When the American Revolution broke out, the Seneca and Cayuga allied with the British, and when they lost, many migrated to Canada or the Western Territories of the United States.

They broke into three populations. The Seneca Nation of New York and the Cayuga Nation of New York were both given small reservations there; other Seneca-Cayuga bands migrated through many tribulations to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

Schumer's crass "out-of-state tribe" characterization panders to groups such as the Upstate Citizens for Equality that don't want old Indian land claims revived, since the tribes' ancestors left the state more than 200 years ago. Their real issue is the Oklahoma tribe and its casino-hotel plan -- their land would be tax-exempt, removing about $10,000 a year from the two counties' combined revenue. The gambling and hospitality businesses would pay no tax.

Schumer hits hard at the tribe's failed attempt to get the same project approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs five years ago. The BIA concluded then that the tribe had "not demonstrated the casino plan would provide an economic benefit to the tribe's members in Oklahoma."

One wonders how the BIA arrived at that bizarre answer, because the tribe's Seneca Cayuga Grand Lake Casino and Lodge in Oklahoma has in the last few decades taken the tribe from being a destitute people to a level of prosperity. The tribe invested a large part of its gambling and cigarette-manufacturing profits back into its community. In 2009, the tribe was able to make $98,000 in charitable donations. The casino and lodge runs a successful profit-sharing 401(k) plan with 222 employees and nearly a half-million dollars in net assets. With such a track record, there's no reason to believe that the tribe couldn't make its New York casino-hotel make enough margin to send loads of money back home.

Schumer should abandon his preposterous carping against the project. More than 11 percent of the Cayuga and Seneca County population still lives below the poverty line, Senator. A few hundred more jobs might help.

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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