County keeps eye on new casinos, revenue

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The opening of three casinos in New York state in barely three months is being watched with more than just passing interest by Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.

He’s anxious to see if the casinos to the east, west and in the Southern Tier are going to hurt county revenues. If they draw gamblers away from the Oneida Indian Nation’s venues in Oneida and Madison counties, Oneida County stands to receive less of the slot machine money paid to the state by the Oneidas.

The county gets 25 percent of the revenue the nation shares with New York, under an agreement approved by the state, the tribe, and Oneida and Madison counties in 2013. When the total increases, the county’s share goes up. Similarly, if the slot machine revenue sent to Albany by the tribe decreases, the payout to the county falls too.

In 2016, the county received $15,353,110. For 2014, the first year the agreement was in effect, the county got $10,373,565. These figures do not include the annual $2.5 million payment from the state to the county to settle back property tax claims. These payments will continue for about 16 more years.

The potential threat to the county’s casino revenue stream because of the increased competition for gamblers comes at a time when sales tax money is stagnant. Sales tax is the county’s largest revenue source, accounting for nearly 25 percent of the total.

Furthermore, local governments like counties are hesitant when it comes to raising property taxes, especially because of the state tax cap.

The millions of dollars received because of the tribe’s massive Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, as well as its other gaming venues, have helped the county hold the line on property taxes in recent years. In fact, there was a tax levy reduction in 2016.

​Now, with new gaming facilities seeking to attract customer bases, it remains to be seen if Oneida County’s three-year history of increased casino revenue continues. Picente has been warning for awhile that he can’t keep proposing budgets that don’t increase the tax levy but spend more on services.

The new casinos are del Lago in Seneca County between Syracuse and Rochester, the Rivers Casino in Schenectady and Tioga Downs Casino in Nichols. A fourth one is slated to open in the Catskills in 2018.

There are now 16 casinos or racetracks with video-lottery terminals in New York north of New York City.

With the increased competition for gaming dollars in mind, the county executive is looking at a gaming venue in downtown Utica, as part of his plan to create a top notch entertainment district in the county’s largest city. He says adding a small casino could help keep more local gamblers at home and maybe draw some new ones from outside of the immediate area. He proposed the partnership with the Oneidas in his State of the County address March 2.

It would not have the same emphasis on food-and-beverage establishments like Turning Stone does.

Because the proposed casino wouldn’t be on tribal land, approvals would be needed from the U.S. Department of Interior and the governor’s office.

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