Five years after the federal government denied the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma's first request for a land trust in Cayuga County, the Oklahoma tribe has once again proposed plans to build a casino.
In a letter received by the Cayuga County officials on Jan. 2, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs reported the Seneca-Cayuga tribe has applied to have 229 acres of land — located mostly in Aurelius and partially in Montezuma — put into a United States land trust, with plans to build a gaming and entertainment center on the property.
If the BIA approves the Miami, Okla.-based tribe's application, the land will be taken off the tax rolls, costing local taxing entities approximately $9,541 in revenues, based on 2012 real property records.
George Fearon, a Cayuga County legislator representing Ledyard, Scipio and Springport, said he was shocked to hear the tribe was trying again for land-into-trust approval.
"This came like a bombshell to me yesterday," he said. "When I saw that yesterday, I thought 'we don't need this now.'"
According to the tribe's website, the Seneca-Cayugas' ancestors, also known as Hotinoshonni, were part of the Iroquois nation and originally had villages in modern day New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The Hotinoshonni, whose roots mostly trace back to the Senecas, migrated west in 1832 following a treaty made with the federal government.
The tribe — through Caywill New York LLP of Rochester — bought the vacant land in Cayuga County from developer Todd S. Mirabito for $738,554 in 2002 to the chagrin of many county residents, business owners and politicians, according to The Citizen's archives. The tribe planned to build an off-reservation casino and hotel on land located between Route 90 and Routes 5 and 20.
But after years of legal battles and political wrangling, the Seneca-Cayuga tribe's plans were scrapped in 2008 after the BIA decided that the 1,500-mile distance between the tribe's reservation and its proposed casino would not provide adequate employment opportunities for individuals living in the Oklahoma reservation.
"The potential departure of a signification number of reservation residents and their families could have serious and far-reaching implications for the remaining tribal community and its continuity as a community," James E. Cason, formerly of the Department of the Interior, wrote in a 2008 letter explaining the BIA's decision.
Five years after its initial rejection, the Seneca-Cayuga tribe is once again seeking to make its property tax exempt via a land trust in the hopes of building a gaming facility — complete with games like bingo, blackjack, slot machines and electronic games of chance — in Cayuga County.
No one from the Seneca-Cayuga tribe immediately responded to a request for comment.
A BIA spokeswoman said the process is in the very early stages, which includes notifying local government officials and seeking comment from them. The agency did not make the application itself available on Thursday. The Citizen is filing of a Freedom of Information Act request for those documents.
Although he wasn't sure why the tribe chose to reapply, Fearon guessed that the state's recently kindled interest in expanding New York's gaming industry influenced the decision.
Regardless of the tribe's reasoning, Fearon said he doesn't believe a casino — especially one built on tax-exempt land — would be any better for the county now than it was five years ago.
"I believe in what you call a level playing field," Fearon said. "I'd like to see economic development in the area, but I'm not sure that's the answer, or what the citizens of the community would want."