MONTICELLO — The head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is coming to Sullivan County to tour potential off-reservation gaming sites.

Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk has agreed to visit the county in August, Congressman Maurice Hinchey said on Wednesday. Hinchey extended an invitation on Friday, and the details of his visit are being worked out.

EchoHawk is the second most important person in the review of an Indian gaming proposal. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EchoHawk’s boss, has the ultimate authority to take land into trust for the purpose of a casino, but most of the review is done by Echohawk’s staff in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“Assistant Secretary EchoHawk has agreed to visit Sullivan County where he can see firsthand how off-reservation gaming could benefit the local economy and help to revive the region’s tourism and hospitality industry,” Hinchey said.

“Casino gaming in Sullivan County could provide a real shot in the arm to the area’s economy by creating thousands of new jobs, including construction jobs and permanent positions at the facilities.”

Before a casino will be seriously considered, however, the feds must reverse a Bush Administration policy that established a distance test, which said that the casino had to be within commutable distance of the reservation by the tribal members. Former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne rejected two Sullivan proposals based on this policy.

Hinchey and Sen. Chuck Schumer have been lobbying Interior to ignore that policy and consider each application on its merits.

Three tribes have expressed interest in Sullivan: the St. Regis Mohawks on land next to the Monticello Casino & Raceway; the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans in Bridgeville; and the Seneca Nation, also in Bridgeville.

However, only the St. Regis Mohawks and Stockbridge-Munsees plan to use the land-into-trust route that goes through the Interior Department. The Senecas plan to ask Congress for land to be placed into “restricted-fee,” whereby their parcel is essentially declared Indian territory.

In both cases, approvals are rare.