Oneida Tribe Opposes NY Casino Proposal

Joins owner of Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack is questioning award of license.

Groups seeking to block a Finger Lakes-area casino in upstate New York have been formally joined by a politically powerful and financially deep-pocketed ally: the Oneida Indian Nation.

The central New York tribe, through its Washington, D.C.-based law firm, has written the New York State Gaming Commission asking that it deny a license for a new casino in a town located mid-way between Rochester and Syracuse. The Oneidas have a reservation located 75 miles from the proposed Lago Resort & Casino, and for two decades have operated a successful casino resort called Turning Stone.

The tribe's law firm, Williams & Connelly, said the Lago casino proposal should be denied, in part, because of a "deeply flawed decision-making process" by the state.

The April 1 letter is the latest challenge to the Lago casino plan; Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the new casino, which would be located about 25 miles from the track.

A panel appointed by the NYSGC in December tapped three proposals, including the Lago proposal submitted by a Rochester developer. The commission, which regulates all gambling-related activities in New York, still has to award licenses to the casino applications in order for development to go forward.

In a 20-page letter to the NYSGC, the tribe's law firm said the state is "required" to deny Lago a casino license for a host of factors. The letter says Lago failed to provide "substantial evidence" that it will offer "meaningful value" to the state or region because most of its revenue will be a result of "cannibalized" casino business from Turning Stone and racetrack-based VLT facilities in the central and western parts of the state.

The Oneidas also claim Lago failed to provide "critical "information," such as an independent environmental impact study and updates about a lawsuit brought over environmental matters against the casino development. Also, it said Lago failed in its application to reveal "significant tax concessions" provided to the casino development by the local county government.

Turning Stone operates under a 1993 agreement with the state; it employs 4,000 people at the resort complex. The tribe, through its law firm, said Turning Stone will be "at grave risk" if Lago is opened, and estimated cannibalization estimates for Lago's revenue from existing casinos of 67% to 90%. The letter said Lago has estimated $30 million of its first-year revenue will come from Turning Stone business.

The tribe also blasts the state's casino siting panel on a series of fronts, concluding that its selection of Lago was done "arbitrarily and capriciously."

A Lago spokesman declined to comment, as did NYSGC representatives.