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SENECAS FACE NEW OBSTACLE TO CASINOS

Efforts to open Seneca-owned casinos in Western New York, already facing opposition within the Indian nation, found a new obstacle Thursday with the filing of a lawsuit seeking to make it harder for the state to enter into gambling compacts with tribes.

While the lawsuit deals specifically with agreements made by Gov. Pataki and his predecessor, Mario Cuomo, for an Indian casino in northern New York, the implications of the legal move would apply to all attempts by the state to make deals with Indians for casinos.

And one of those bringing the lawsuit Thursday, Jamestown Democratic Assemblyman William Parment, said the Senecas should "certainly be wary" about entering into any deal with Pataki for a casino with this lawsuit now hanging over the talks.

The heart of the suit, brought by anti-gambling groups and business interests in several sections of the state, including Western New York, is that the governor, on his own, cannot enter into casino compacts with Indian nations without the approval of the state Legislature.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs in the case -- including Parment and Queens Republican Sen. Frank Padavan -- claim that casino agreements cannot be made until the state constitution is amended to permit such gambling.

Parment said the administration's talks with the Senecas could continue.

If the Senecas were to make a deal with Pataki before the constitution were changed -- a process that would take several years at least -- the Legislature would have to approve the compact and any new casino would have to limit its games to those allowed under the constitution.

Another of the five individuals bringing the suit, the Rev. G. Standford Bratton, coordinator of the Western New York Coalition Against Casino Gambling, believes it would be illegal for Pataki to cobble together an agreement on his own with the Senecas.

The lawsuit, filed in state supreme court in Albany, seeks to close down a casino opened earlier this year by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe north of Watertown. The casino compact was agreed to in 1993 by Cuomo, and then amended in May by Pataki to allow the tribe to install at least 1,000 slot-like gambling devices.

But the suit, if successful, would likely stop or turn around any deal Pataki might cut with the Senecas. That is because Pataki has said in the past he does not believe the Legislature needs to be brought in on the process. Furthermore, the state constitution hasn't been amended to allow casinos in New York, and slot machines are currently banned in the state.

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