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NO CASINO APPEAL FROM STATE
DECISION UPSETS TOWN ATTORNEY

Cheektowaga might have to go it alone in appealing a June ruling blocking construction of a Seneca Nation of Indians casino on land near Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The governor's office Wednesday confirmed it will not appeal a June 16 State Supreme Court ruling that severed a portion of the 2002 gambling compact between the state and the Senecas. The ruling also permanently enjoined the state from releasing funds for the project.

"Upon review, we do not believe there to be a sufficient basis for an appeal by the state," said Todd Alhart, a spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki.

Pataki's office declined to discuss the reasoning behind the decision not to appeal. However, the governor has said he still favors locating a casino in Buffalo, rather than a suburban community. In comments following Justice Joseph P. Makowski's ruling, Pataki reiterated his view that gambling is an economic development tool.

"One of the goals is to revitalize areas like downtown Niagara Falls, downtown Buffalo and the Catskills," Pataki said.

In his ruling, Makowski found that language in the compact Pataki signed with the Senecas, allowing the tribe to establish a casino outside the city if all urban options were rejected, violates state constitutional provisions governing separation of powers.

Cheektowaga Town Attorney Michael Stachowski said he's extremely disappointed in the state's "no appeal" stance.

"There's something rotten in the State of New York," Stachowski said. "I think the governor has lost sight of suburban taxpayers and voters in deciding against an appeal of this very important issue. By not appealing, he's saying, 'Move it to Buffalo,' no matter what the Senecas and people of Cheektowaga want."

The Cheektowaga Town Board voted in June to authorize an appeal of the State Supreme Court ruling.

Stachowski said the town did not receive the official order until Friday and now has a window of 30 days from that date to ask the Appellate Division to review the Makowski ruling.

Stachowski accused the plaintiffs in the case, a group led by Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, of dragging their heels by waiting a full month to have the order served, a delay that could mean a hearing on the matter won't be held until the end of the year.

"I think they are trying to play games with the appellate calender to stall this thing as long as possible," he said. "It was all hurry up to get their suit into court, and now they're just sitting back."

Michael Powers, attorney for Paladino's group, said Stachowski didn't have to wait for the order to be filed and served.

"The June 16 judgment is the ultimate appealable instrument. Mr. Stachowski knows that and could have filed his notice of appeal immediately," Powers said.

He predicted the matter will be heard and decided by early fall, and, if further appeal is needed, it could receive final review by the State Court of Appeals before the end of the year.

Powers said he's heartened by Pataki's decision to forgo an appeal.

"Apparently, the governor believes we're right and that if there's going to be a Seneca casino in Erie County, it must be in Buffalo. We're very optimistic that view will be upheld if the Town of Cheektowaga does appeal," Powers said.

Timing is key to the Senecas' casino plans because, under terms of the compact, the nation must begin construction of an Erie County casino by August 2005, or Buffalo could begin discussions with other Indian tribes.

Amherst-based Uniland Development Co., owner of the 57-acre site and also a party to the lawsuit brought by Buffalo business interests, has yet to decide if it will appeal the portion of the ruling that prohibits the company from selling the land to the Senecas.

"We are still assessing what course of action is best," said Uniland spokesman Tom Widzinski. "We still believe we shouldn't have been involved in the lawsuit to begin with."

The Senecas Nation, which was not a party to the lawsuit, has labeled Makowski's ruling a "hollow victory" for advocates of a Buffalo casino and has suggested that Erie County could miss out on any gaming action because of the lawsuit.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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