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Court Ruling Could Slow Finger Lakes Casino

Appeals court determined environmental review procedures were not followed.

A push to develop a new commercial casino in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York was ordered to slow down by an appeals court, which determined local officials did not not follow procedures involving an environmental review of the project.

The New York state's Appellate Division in the Fourth Judicial District ruled July 10 that the town of Tyre failed to adequately explain how the Lago Resort and Casino project will not present an environmental harm to the community. The requirement for such action is a part of New York's State Environmental Quality Review law.

That law, the court noted, contains mechanisms that "mandate strict compliance and anything less will result in annulment of the lead agency's determination of significance.'' In the case of the Lago casino, that annulment means the town's approval of the casino's site plan is no longer in effect.

The appeals court, in reversing a lower state Supreme Court ruling, said Tyre officials failed to provide a "reasoned elaboration" in its declaration that the casino would pose no environmental threat.

The casino project is controversial on a host of fronts, including the legal challenges by some area residents. The Lago situation is developing into a full-scale upstate casino war between the newcomer in Seneca County and existing racetrack and casino operations.

Lago developers have acknowledged they expect tens of millions of dollars in revenues to come from existing business at existing upstate gambling facilities.

Finger Lakes
Gaming and Racetrack is located about 25 miles away to the west from Tyre, a community between Rochester and Syracuse. Finger Lakes officials, and the track's horsemen's group, have said the Lago casino could put their facility out of business.

To the east, the Oneida Indian Nation has raised its own economic worries about Lago grabbing customers away from its decades' old and successful casino operation; the Oneidas recently responded by opening relatively small tribe-owned casino just east of Syracuse. Vernon Downs, a harness track with a connected video lottery terminal casino, has been seeing slumping revenues and officials at the facility, located near the Oneidas' Turning Stone, have echoed worries about competing with the Lago casino, which will be permitted more extensive gambling offerings than existing track-based casinos.

The court's decision does not halt the Lago development, but it appears to at the very least delay it. The state Gaming Commission this week said the earliest that three pending casino license applications can be approved is Sept. 30. Assuming that Tyre now has to perform a potentially time-consuming and extensive environmental review raises questions how such an endeavor can be completed in less than 90 days. Opponents hope the court's ruling can provide time to devise ways to still halt the Lago development.

But Lago officials sounded unconcerned that the court ruling might slow down its development plans. "This decision was on technical grounds that we anticipate will be rectified in the near future. We're continuing to focus on the development of the project in anticipation of a license being issued by the gaming commission,'' said Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for the casino developers.

Officials at Finger Lakes racetrack and casino did not immediately return calls for comment.

Desiree Dawley, head of a group called Casino Free Tyre, praised the court's ruling. She said the town's resolution supporting the Lago casinoa necessary document in order to get the casino license approved by the statewas also annulled by the court's July 10 decision. She called the ruling a "significant victory" for her town and that the decision confirms that the town "failed to meet its most basic obligations" when it okayed the Lago proposal.