Upstate New York Towns Suing to Stop Empire State’s Casino Expansion

Posted on: September 5, 2013, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: September 4, 2013, 11:47h.

Conflict continues over a new compact between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Oneida Indian Nation

When New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo took steps to ensure that more casinos could be built throughout his state, his efforts included placating a number of different interest groups in order to ensure that everyone would be on board with the program. Given the size of the state and the scope of the expansion, however, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that there are still groups who feel the process was unfair and should be stopped.

Towns Try to Block Compact

Now two towns in central New York have asked a judge to block the legislation that could eventually lead to as many as five new casinos being built in the Empire State. At question is a particular piece of legislation that made a deal between the state government and the Oneida Indian Nation – the Native American tribal group that owns and operates the Turning Stone Resort Casino.

Under that legislative agreement, the Oneida Indian Nation received a promise of protection from any local competition by the new casino projects, essentially giving them a protected territory in that region of New York. In exchange, the Oneidas agreed not to oppose a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to build full casino resorts.

Voters will now have a chance to vote on that amendment in November, and it will need to pass for any new casinos to be built. However, two towns are attempting to preempt this process in an effort to stop the vote before it starts.

The suit was brought by the towns of Verona – where Turning Stone is located – and Vernon. According to the lawsuit, those two towns believe that state and county officials overstepped their authority when they agreed to back the legislation.

“The way they did it was so was blatantly illegal and an affront to the integrity and sanctity of the fundamental right of the people of the state to vote and to decide how they should be governed in a democratic society,” the towns said in their joint complaint.

New Amendment Would Change State Constitution

At the moment, the New York State Constitution outlaws commercial gambling venues, and even has language directing the state legislature to pass laws preventing the practice. The new amendment would end this prohibition, a move that Governor Cuomo hopes could bring in as much as $1 billion to New York’s  state coffers in new revenues each year.

Cuomo is one of the named defendants in the case. The leaders of the state Assembly and Senate are also included in the suit, as are  Madison and Oneida counties and their respective legislative leaders.

According to the suit, state and county officials “exceeded their authority” by entering into an agreement with the Oneidas that required the tribe both to support the constitutional amendment and agree not to fund any opposition groups.

“This blatant attempt…to effectively buy the support of, and stifle any opposition from, the Oneidas in order to ensure passage of a constitutional amendment strikes at the very foundation of our democracy and subverts the sanctity of the electoral process,” the complaint goes on to say. Four individual plaintiffs are also taking part in the suit, saying that they cannot cast ballots “on equal footing” with other voters because other voters have essentially been bought off by the agreement.

According to the governor’s office, however, the lawsuit is unfounded, and they deny the complaint’s allegations.

“The agreement is sound, has been approved by democratic votes in the relevant county legislatures, and settles long-standing issues with the Oneidas,” said a statement from the governor’s office.