Hoping to stop, and possibly reverse, the spread of casino gambling in the state, a group of business and religious interests plans to file a lawsuit this week challenging the governor's authority to negotiate with Indian tribes.
Details on the pending action were scarce Tuesday evening, but sources said it will allege, in part, that Gov. Pataki illegally brokered a deal earlier this year with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to install at least 1,000 slotlike machines at its casino.
The agreement to place machines in the struggling Mohawk casino near the Canadian border amended the compact signed between the Indian tribe and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, Pataki's predecessor.
But, sources said, the lawsuit will go far beyond the Mohawk deal to argue that Pataki and Cuomo -- who had approved deals with the Oneidas for the state's first Indian-run casino, Turning Stone in Verona near Utica -- did not have the authority to negotiate and conclude casino deals on the state's behalf.
With slot machines specifically banned under state law, the lawsuit, sources say, will contend that the governor at least had to get the approval of the State Legislature before making any deals with the Indians.
The lawsuit's impact on negotiations between the Pataki administration and the Seneca Nation for one or more casinos in Western New York remained unclear, although it could delay the bogged-down talks even further.
In the past, the governor has insisted that he alone could sign off on any deals with the Senecas, while some legislators have insisted such agreements would violate the State Constitution by not including the Legislature. The Pataki administration also is negotiating with the St. Regis Mohawks for an off-reservation casino that would be located adjacent to a harness track in the southern Catskill mountains.
The Rev. Duane Motley, head of Rochester-based New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he hopes the legal action will prevent the spread of new Indian gambling, including the Senecas' attempts for a casino.
At the very least, Mr. Motley said, the State Legislature also must approve the casino compacts and amendments signed by Cuomo and Pataki in recent years. He also said a change in the State Constitution is required before the state can enter into any casino agreements with Indian tribes.
"We definitely want to stop the expansion of casino gambling. If this case is successful, that would prevent the governor from acting alone with the Senecas or anyone else on forming a compact or amending an existing compact," he said.