Oneidas concerned about casino proposal

Elizabeth Cooper
Posted Sep. 18, 2014 @ 6:00 am


None of the casino proposals presented to New York state officials last week were from our area – but one still hit close to home.

Rochester-based Wilmorite and partner Peninsula Pacific pitched a $425 million casino for the town of Tyre in Seneca County, just 80 miles west of the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona. If approved, it could pull business from the local casino and other Indian casinos in Western New York.

The state Gaming Commission, which is vetting the proposals, raised the proximity to Turning Stone as a possible issue during the developers’ presentation. And Oneida Nation officials expressed concern about it as well.

“We are very encouraged that the board put into question the siting of a casino near another that is providing significant economic support for Central New York,” Oneida Nation spokesman Joel Barkin said. “It raised some real questions and concerns that this would be in conflict with the governor’s rationale of using casino expansion as a mode of economic development for the state.”

Vernon Downs owner Jeff Gural also is pitching a casino for his Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier region. In his proposal, Gural states that if Tioga doesn’t get a casino license, it could jeopardize the viability of Tioga and Vernon Downs.

The commission’s decision about which of the 16 proposed casinos to approve is expected in late October or early November. As many as four casinos could be allowed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo solicited the proposals for casinos in three regions of the state: the Capital district, the Catskills and the Eastern Southern Tier. He also granted exclusivity agreements to some Indian tribes in the state with existing casinos, including the Oneida Nation.

Tyre is about 45 miles west of Syracuse, which is just inside the Oneidas’ exclusivity zone and is one of Turning Stone’s major markets. Verona, where Turning Stone is located, is about 38 miles from Syracuse.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said he believes the proposal violates the spirit of Cuomo’s arrangement.

“It defeats the purpose,” he said. “To post it on the edge is a region competing against itself. It’s not good for the economy or any of us and I would oppose it strongly.”

The Oneida Nation signed an agreement with the state and Oneida and Madison counties in spring of 2013 that gives the state one quarter of Turning Stone’s expected $200 million annual slot machine take. Oneida County gets a quarter of the state’s share, or an expected $12.5 million. The local casino also employs about 4,500 people.

Called Lago Resort and Casino, the Tyre casino would hope to attract about 3.4 million visitors per year and generate $263 million its first year. The group also estimates 2,000 permanent jobs.

About 50 percent of the Lago traffic would be pulled from existing Indian casinos, including Turning Stone and the three Seneca nation casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, promoters said. The rest would come from newly generated business.

“There is enough space for our property to come into the market, leaving Turning Stone and the other properties viable,” said Wilmorite Vice President of Gaming Operations Juris Basens.

He also said the competition would raise the quality of all the casinos in the state.

“Other casinos have been around for awhile,” he said. “Every business needs to stay fresh, and this is an opportunity for everyone to get better.”