VERONA — “We’ve made and changed history in Central New York,” says Oneida Indian Nation Representative and Nation Enterprises CEO Ray Halbritter of the 25 years since the Oneidas’ Turning Stone Resort and Casino opened.
“Look what we’ve created....Look what we’ve built,” Halbritter said this morning during a 25-year anniversary observance at Turning Stone, the Rome-Utica area’s largest employer with about 4,500 employees.
It has been “not just about business,” but also “about creating a better life...helping ourselves...helping people around us make a better living” as well as supporting the community, said Halbritter. He addressed an audience of about 700 including many staff who gathered at The Showroom at Turning Stone.
Halbritter was joined by Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.; state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-47, Rome; and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-119, Utica.
The event also recognized more than 150 employees who have been with Turning Stone throughout its 25 years; debuted a commemorative video about the 25th anniversary milestone; and included presentation of a commemorative copy of a state Senate resolution honoring the Nation for its reinvestment in the local economy.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the gaming compact between the state and the Oneida nation that was in conjunction with the start of Turning Stone. Recounting the facility's opening in 1993, Halbritter said it was "a long time ago...certainly the world has changed;" at that time, he told the audience, there were no cellphones or Facebook; Bill Clinton had just been elected president; and the Buffalo Bills had lost their third consecutive Super Bowl.
Halbitter also noted that the local region during that period was experiencing difficult economic times, including many layoffs plus the downsizing at Griffiss Air Force Base that led to its closing in 1995.
The Oneida Nation had "a simple goal...build something lasting, enduring" to help its people help themselves and "also...try to help the surrounding community as well," Halbritter commented. Referring to a "long, drawn-out methodical plan" for developing Turning Stone, he traced its steady growth and expansion of facilities over several years following its launch.
Turning Stone's 25-year history of hard work and success has been "a real American story," observed Halbritter. The "key to our success" has been "our employees...the way we treat our people," he added.
Halbritter expressed confidence that the next 25 years for Turning Stone will be just as fruitful. To compete in business, he remarked, it is essential to "adapt to new technology, new consumer preferences" and not take the conditions for granted.
As it moves into the future, the Oneida Nation will "continue to be here" locally, Halbritter said.
Among other speakers:
• Picente offered a "thank-you for 25 years of excellence" at Turning Stone. He asked "who could have envisioned what would have taken place...25 years ago?"
Picente agreed that prior to Turning Stone, the early 1990s represented "very dark days" of the area which lost "thousands of jobs...." The development of Turning Stone "did start the spark...provided hope we'd...get through this a a region," he said.
In addition, Picente pointed out that this year is the fifth-year anniversary of a "historic settlement agreement" between the Oneida Nation, the state and Oneida and Madison counties to end disputes over taxation and trust land. The settlement includes the Oneidas paying a portion of their slot machine proceeds to the state, which in turn sends some of the slot money to Oneida and Madison counties. To date it has generated more than $200 million in public revenue for the state, and more than $15 million per year in Oneida County, Halbritter has noted.
• One of the 25-year Oneida Nation employees — Sean Heffernan, shift manager-table games — talked about the "tremendous journey" in seeing "what Turning Stone has become" with its many operating segments.
• Teresa Drummond, a senior manager-finance and a 23-year Oneida Nation employee, said if not for the Nation she and many others probably would have had to leave the area to find opportunities. It is hard to imagine "what the area would look like without Turning Stone" and all that has grown around it, she remarked.