Oneida County’s opposition to a casino in Seneca County has sparked a flurry of words between top officials in the two counties.
“My friends in Oneida County have apparently been drinking heavy doses of Turning Stone Kool-Aid,” began a statement released by Seneca County Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Hayssen. He responded Wednesday to criticism from Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. and other local officials of the proposal to put a casino in Tyre in Seneca County. They expressed concern earlier in the week about the negative effect the presence of a casino 75 miles to the west on the Thruway would have on the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona.
“Does County Executive Picente understand what competition is all about,” continued the Seneca County official in his scathing rebuke. “This is America, not Cuba. Competition is good for businesses and for the customers. Even competition where one party (Turning Stone) – his party – gets a 10-county monopoly.”
Oneida County receives a share of the money the Oneidas pay to the state under the agreement that was approved last year and enacted in March. The more money Turning Stone takes in through its slot machines, the more money Oneida County will get.
He notes that Oneida County signed the agreement that gave exclusivity to Turning Stone in a large swath of Central New York, but this zone does not include Seneca County. Between Tyre and Turning Stone is Syracuse, the largest city in Central New York. Oneida County’s two gambling venues, Turning Stone and nearby Vernon Downs, draw well from the market. The Seneca County casino expects to do likewise. Syracuse is in one of the counties barred from having a casino.
“Turning Stone, New York state and Oneida County were all parties to that negotiation and contractually agreed to the terms establishing the Oneida exclusivity zone, a zone that rendered Seneca County eligible to compete for a commercial casino license,” Hayssen said. He maintains that Turning Stone can withstand new competition while his county stands to be shut out from gambling revenue if the Tyre proposal doesn’t go through.
On Friday, Picente responded to Hayssen in a letter. The Oneida County official refers to the struggling gambling industry in Atlantic City, N.J., where four casinos have shut down this year, costing thousands of people their jobs. A fifth casino may close later this year.
“The way to prevent that disaster from being replicated here in Central New York is to make sure that gaming expansion honors the intent of the enabling legislation, to create jobs in distinct and separate upstate regions,” penned Picente. “The intent was not to take jobs and development from one region and shift it to another. That is what the Tyre location will do.”
According to Lago’s executive summary, about half of the estimated nearly $263 million first-year revenue is expected to be drawn from existing New York gambling facilities — 30 percent from current Native American casinos, like Turning Stone, and 21 percent from established racinos, like the one at Vernon Downs. The other half, the document says, is expected to be gambling revenue new to New York.
The state board that could grant up to four licenses in upstate is expected to start making decisions this fall.
“We should hesitate to advance any gaming expansion proposal if the empirical data reveals it will divide the available revenue rather than expand it,” said Picente. “There are plenty of areas in our state that have no such facilities at all. We should look to those areas first in order to grow the economy in every region.”
Hayssen doesn’t buy this argument.
“Will Turning Stone losing 10 percent of its revenue really cost thousands of Oneida County residents their livelihoods? Really?”, his statement said. “And what about the fact that Lago (Resort & Casino) will create $130 million in new casino revenue in its first year?
“Turning Stone is free to compete for those new customers with Lago, located 70 miles to its west, or with a new Capital Region casino, located not much further to the east.”
Picente says in his letter that Turning Stone has been an “engine of job growth and economic development, one that has benefited the entire region.” He said the casino relies on vendors and contractors from across the state and has become a destination tourist attraction “drawing visitors to many Central New York counties from all across the Eastern seaboard.”
Picente ends his letter with an offer to meet with Hayssen. “We must recognize that many individual counties have unique assets and attributes, and those assets and attributes do not exist in a vacuum. They each play a special role in strengthening the entire region,” he said. “ In other words, united we stand, but divided we will fall.”