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Gov. George E. Pataki on Monday backed away from a plan for a sprawling casino complex in downtown Rochester -- a proposal vigorously opposed by the Seneca Nation of Indians.

The administration was negotiating casino rights with the Seneca-Cayuga tribe of Oklahoma as a way to resolve the tribe's pending land claims case against the state, which involves 64,000 acres of land in the Finger Lakes region.

The casino would have featured video lottery terminals -- enabling developers to get around the Senecas' exclusivity deal with the state as the sole Indian casino operators in Western New York, backers believed.

"There aren't any Rochester casino talks," said Pataki, when asked about the negotiations at an appearance in Albany.

The governor said "local support" is critical to any deal he reaches with Indian tribes.

So far, the Rochester casino has run into a wall of opposition, led by the city's mayor, William Johnson.

Asked if the Rochester casino idea was dead, Pataki said, "I don't know that it was ever really very much alive. If the locals came out with some aggressive support, it's something I would be willing to consider, but I am not inherently excited about it at all."

The Oklahoma tribe, along with a Rochester developer, proposed a $500 million casino and hotel complex on 35 acres in downtown Rochester.

When word of the casino talks surfaced, Seneca leaders scoffed at the notion of an out-of-state tribe being permitted go head-to-head with their Western New York casino monopoly.

"They don't have a land base here. They're not entitled to any privileges in New York State," Barry Snyder, chairman of the Seneca Nation's tribal council, said last month.

In return for three casinos the Senecas can operate in Western New York, with the state sharing in proceeds from slot machine revenue, the Senecas received exclusive rights to operate Las Vegas-style casinos in a section of the state from its western border to 30 miles east of Rochester.

Last month, Pataki had declined to elaborate on the Rochester casino talks, except to say his administration was having "productive discussions" on the issue.


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