Oneida Nation agrees to drop land claim for gaming exclusivity

The Oneida Indian Nation has agreed to effectively end its decades-long land claim in Oneida and Madison counties in exchange for exclusive rights to operate a casino in Central New York.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the parameters of the deal alongside Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, Chairman of the Madison County Board of Supervisors John Becker, and other state and local leaders.

In the deal, Cuomo says the state will receive 25% of gaming revenue generated by Turning Stone Resort, and the Oneidas will end its claim to land in Oneida and Madison counties.

The Oneida Indian will also receive the right to run the casino without competition from proposed non-Indian gaming facilities.

Initial estimates place the possible state revenue from Turning Stone at $50 million per year. In return for the revenue generated by the agreement, the counties will agree to drop their own lawsuits against the Nation.

"To finally come to terms and work through all those years of emotion and all those years of disapointment was extraordinary," said Cuomo.

The Oneida Nation would charge an equivalent to New York sales tax but that money would be kept by the Oneidas to pay for their own government expenses. "We will be charging the same burden if you will of tax that is charged off the reservation. There will be no difference," says Halbritter.

If Governor Cuomo's legislation that would expand gaming in New York is passed, eight Central New York Counties would share 10% of the slot machine revenue. Even without Cuomo's gaming legislation, Oneida County is guaranteed $2.5 million a year from the state's share of slot machine revenue. Madison County will be guaranteed $3.5 million a year.

The proposed deal would cap the amount of land the Oneida Nation could place into a trust at 17,000 acres in Oneida County and 8,000 acres in Madison County.

"The good thing about a partnership is when both sides really benefit, not just one side. And here, the more we make, the more the state makes," said Halbritter.

Speaking at the news conference, Picente says the agreement satisfies many issues and carves a path forward. Picente calls this a "historic day" for Oneida County.

Becker says the settlement gives all parties common ground to be good neighbors. He says it is a â??fair compromise.â??

A public referendum to change New York's constitution to allow non-Indian casinos could be on the ballot as early as November.

Cuomo says this agreement will take effect regardless of any statewide referendum on non-Indian casinos. The State Legislature, county legislatures, and Oneida Nation must approve the agreement.

Oneida County Legislator Howard Regner says he expected the finer points of the deal to be explained at a public meeting of the Oneida County Legislature in Utica at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

"While we have some additional work to do, I believe this agreement is reasonable and represents a positive step forward for the counties, the Oneida Indian Nation, and the entire region," Senator David Valesky said in a statement.

The proposed deal would be part Cuomo's proposal to bring three Las Vegas casinos to upstate New York at yet-to-be-identified locations. The agreement comes a week after Cuomo said Indian casinos run by the Oneidas, Senecas and Mohawks could face competition in their backyards if talks with tribes fail to yield results.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

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