Oneida New York casino letter

The Oneida Indian Nation operates Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. (Image: Mike Groll/AP)

New York’s casino bill was designed to be palatable to all interests.

Upstate casinos would be spread out across three regions, and there would be no new resorts that would be close to existing Indian casinos such as Turning Stone.

And yet, despite these efforts, it seems that New York hasn’t been able to avoid intense controversy over exactly who will be getting casinos and where they’ll be placed.

The Oneida Indian Nation is the latest party to complain about the recommendations of the Gaming Facility Location Board, saying that the proposal to give a license to the Lago Resort & Casino in the Finger Lakes should be rejected.

In their letter to the New York Gaming Commission, the Oneidas say that they believe that the casino would cannibalize their business at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona.

New Casino a “Grave Risk” to Turning Stone

“Licensing the Lago casino will place the economic health of Turning Stone at grave risk,” read the letter, written by lawyer George Borden on behalf of the tribe. “Lago is projected to cannibalize the majority of its business from existing New York gaming facilities, much of it from Turning Stone, which is a mere 75 miles away.”

The letter notes that that cannibalization was used as a reason not to award some other licenses, which begs the question of why it wasn’t a consideration in this case.

“There is no lawful justification for the board to subject Upstate, primarily Native American casinos, to cannibalization deemed intolerable for Downstate, non-Native American, casinos,” the letter stated.

The letter does not immediately threaten a lawsuit, though Oneida Nation spokesperson Joel Barkin did say that the tribe is leaving their options open.

Cannibalization, Lack of Required Documentation Cited as Regions to Reject

Over the 20 pages of the letter, the Oneidas lay out several arguments as to why the Lago Resort shouldn’t receive a license. Even beyond their concerns for the health of their own casino, they say, there are substantive reasons for the state gaming commission to reject the bid.

“The Commission not only has extremely good cause to deny a license to Lago, the Commission is required under the Act to deny a license to Lago, for two reasons,” the letter read.

The first of the reasons was the aforementioned cannibalization, which the Oneidas say means that Lago wouldn’t “offer meaningful value to either the State or Region 5 (the Eastern Southern Tier Region).” However, they also say that the Lago bid failed to include critical documents that were required as a condition for being considered for a license.

“Based on the information released by the Location Board, Lago failed to provide critical information required by the Act and requested in the Request for Applications…independent environmental studies concerning the impact of the proposed casino on nearby protected species and habitats,” they wrote.

The Oneidas are not the only group that has expressed disappointment at the Gaming Facility Location Board’s recommendation for the Lago resort.

Many officials in the Southern Tier were dismayed that a casino project in the Finger Lakes was chosen over proposals such as the one at Tioga Downs.

Protests from that region did lead to a reopening of bids for the fourth available casino license in upstate New York, though there is no guarantee that the board will recommend a casino for the region this time around, either.