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Day One, 12/10/00
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The $800 million deal for outsiders at Mohegan Sun

Day Two, 12/11/00
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Day Three, 12/12/00
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Day Four, 12/13/00
Tribes make easy criminal targets

Trump plays both sides in casino bids

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Tribal gamble

Trump plays both sides in casino bids

Foxwoods from afar DONALD TRUMP has fought hard to keep Indian gaming away from his three Atlantic City casinos. (1999 AP FILE PHOTO)
By Neil Swidey, Globe Staff, 12/13/2000

ention Donald Trump to most people, and you'll get a lot of talk about casinos and cash and cuff links, about a somehow forgivably conceited guy who talks about himself in the third person as he steps off his yacht or out of his limo with a leggy model on his arm.

But bring up his name to people in Sullivan County, N.Y., or members of the Indian tribe they are backing, and you'll have to duck to miss the spit. It's an involuntary reaction for most people in the ailing Catskills county once flush with Borscht Belt resorts. He's equally detested on the St. Regis Mohawk reservation near the Canadian border.

For years, Sullivan County leaders have argued that the elixir for their economic woes is a casino. They found that the only way around New York's constitutional ban on casino gambling was to give local land to a sovereign Indian tribe. So Sullivan County turned to the St. Regis Mohawk tribe.

Trump, worried that his three highly leveraged Atlantic City casinos would be devastated by a Catskills casino, has fought them every step of the way. Wielding clout bought with his towering stack of lobbying chips, Trump has won most of the battles.

The Mohawks call Trump racist. Sullivan County leaders call him unscrupulous. But to many observers, Trump is just the embodiment of the bizarre contradictions and unfortunate manipulations inherent in national Indian gaming policy. In one state, he fights claims of Indian sovereignty and casino entitlement with the zeal of Custer. In another, he invokes the proud heritage of the tribe allied with him to open a casino.

The most recognizable name in gambling, Trump has often adopted the moral tones of the Christian foot soldiers he enlisted in his assault against New York casinos. He told The New York Times in October that gambling in the Catskills or other areas close to Manhattan ''will destroy the progress that's been made in New York City. It will drain money out of the city. Instead of buying cars and apartments, they'll be spending money at the casinos.''

In recent years, Trump has spent $3 million lobbying New York lawmakers against new casino gambling, leaping in 1998 to the No. 2 spot in the annual list of state lobbyists. Additionally, according to investigators, he spent more than $1 million in the first half of this year for advertising, polling, and private investigators, and he funded a lawsuit now in the courts challenging the governor's right to negotiate with Indian tribes.

Last winter, Trump secretly financed a series of ads in upstate New York warning that the Mohawk casino would bring drug dealing and organized crime to the Catskills. The ads featured a picture of cocaine lines and drug needles and rattled off alleged abuses by the tribe, asking, ''Are these the new neighbors we want?''

Last month, as part of a settlement with the New York State Commission on Lobbying, Trump, his lobbyist - Roger Stone, a former Nixon operative - and the Institute for Law and Society agreed to pay a record $250,000 fine for violating lobbying laws requiring full disclosure. Investigators determined that the institute, which technically sponsored the ads, had been funded entirely by Trump. This follows his fight questioning the legitimacy of the tribe that now runs Foxwoods casino in Connecticut.

''They don't look like Indians to me,'' Trump said of the Mashantucket Pequots, in testimony before Congress in 1993. He said Indian tribes would be powerless to keep organized crime from taking over their casinos. ''That some Indian chief is going to tell Joey Killer to get off his reservation is unbelievable,'' said Trump, who filed a federal court challenge to the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that made Indian casinos possible.

But the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, rivals of the Mashantucket branch, apparently look more like Indians to Trump. In a bold attempt to finance his own Connecticut competitor to Foxwoods, he announced last year he was teaming up with the North Stonington, Conn.-based Paucatucks, and is helping fund their costly effort to gain federal recognition. If that 150-member tribe succeeds, Trump and his chosen tribe would operate a casino just miles from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Trump, who declined to comment for this article, also has deals with at least two other tribes in other parts of the country.

''He's playing both sides of the fence,'' says the Rev. Duane Motley, whose Christian antigambling organization teamed up with Trump to block casinos in New York. ''I guess I have to respect him. He's a businessman trying to protect his own investments.''

And from a business standpoint, Trump's selective endorsement of Indian gaming makes sense. Foxwoods, the money-printing casino in Connecticut, took the shine off Atlantic City 250 miles away, prompting two casinos there into bankruptcy protection. Trump appears to have nothing to lose in joining forces with a Connecticut tribe to build a casino to chip away at Foxwoods.

The stakes are dramatically higher in New York. Analysts say up to 40 percent of Atlantic City gaming revenues come from people from the New York City area. A Catskills casino just 90 miles from Manhattan has the potential to drain millions from Trump's casinos.

But to others, Trump's conflicting stances symbolize the weaknesses in a system in which tribes often become pawns of powerful gaming interests.

''Good politics for Donald Trump. Bad politics for Indian Country,'' says Matt Connor, editor of Indian Gaming Business.

A businessman more concerned with consistency could find a more nuanced way of fighting Indian gaming in New York while benefiting from it elsewhere. But, of course, consistency has never been a top priority for Donald Trump.

''He's a funny mass of contradictions,'' says Gwenda Blair, whose biography ''The Trumps,'' was published earlier this year.

She says Trump's proven known-how in running casinos and sheer force of will make him an unstoppable force: ''With Donald, you're going to get it done. There isn't a ghost of a question.''

As to why Indian tribes would ally themselves with someone who has been stridently critical of other tribes and Indian gaming in general, Blair says, ''Money talks. Having Trump over the door is still an enormously successful drawing card.''

James Cunha Jr., chief of the Paucatucks, says of Trump, ''He's been very respectful of our heritage. I can't say anything bad about him.''

Gene Gambale, general counsel for the Twenty-nine Palms Band of Mission Indians near Palm Springs, Calif., says his tribe formed a partnership with Trump for one reason. ''Donald Trump's name, regardless of whether people love him or don't love him, has a certain amount of attraction built into it.''

I n an early meeting with him, tribal members confronted Trump over his comments about Native Americans. ''He didn't deny them, nor was he very apologetic,'' Gambale recalls. Trump, he says, explained, ''`These were my reasons,' and framed them in a competitive business type context.''

Trump, says biographer Blair, ''pushes things to the absolute edge. He exaggerates to unbelievable lengths. You wonder how he can get away with it.'' But, she says, he has repeatedly shown that if he senses the battle is lost, he'll ''cut a deal and declare victory.''

If the fight over casinos in the Catskills gets to that point, she says, ''I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him make a deal to operate the casino there.'' Nor would she be surprised if the tribes he has criticized become partners. Trump has a way of making all parties understand their best interests can be his as well. After all, he was the man who told Larry King on live television in 1987, ''Do you mind if I sit back? Your breath is very bad'' - and then returned to the CNN host's show many times.

But if Trump ever gets to the point of supporting a Catskills casino, he probably shouldn't bother trying to patch things up with the people of Sullivan County: ''Stay out of my town. Stay in Jersey,'' says Tony Cellini, supervisor of the Sullivan County town of Thompson, where the Mohawks' casino is planned.

Cellini said his town and a group of local investors spent years trying to gain federal and state approval for the land deal with the Mohawks. But just 16 days after winning federal approval, leaders of the tribe and Sullivan County cut loose the local investors, who critics said were in over their heads. Instead, they allied with Arthur M. Goldberg, the head of Park Place Entertainment, the world's largest casino company. Goldberg, who earlier lobbied against the Mohawks casino, then gave them a $3 million loan.

Cellini said there was just one reason for the surprise decision, which could delay a Catskills casino several more years. ''With Arthur Goldberg, we finally had someone of the stature of Donald Trump, someone not afraid to stand up to him.'' And someone with deeper pockets than The Donald.

One morning late in October, Cellini and four of his colleagues met at the local Blue Horizon Diner. Goldberg, 58, was flying up to go over the plans for a $500 million Catskills casino. Sliding into the vinyl booth, Cellini couldn't help but smile as he pictured Trump seething with anger knowing he had at last been bested.

But then Cellini looked up to see his secretary walking through the door rather than Goldberg. She looked pale as she relayed the call she had just received: Arthur Goldberg is dead.

Proving again the heavy stakes, the local investors, now allied with the Cayuga Indian tribe, are trying to block the Park Place-Mohawk casino and build their own. The result is a standoff between legal heavy hitters: Park Place has hired Al Gore's chad man, David Boies, and the local investors have brought in Thomas Puccio, defense lawyer for Claus von Bulow.

Cellini says the people at Park Place have assured him the casino will go forward despite Goldberg's death from bone marrow failure. But even he has to admit that the cards are again with Trump.