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Defeat for NY Towns That Fought Gambling Deal

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - Two central New York towns went busto Thursday in their challenge of legislation that favors the Turning Stone Casino run by the Oneida Tribe.

New York made the legislative concessions in 2013 as part of the state's plan to legalize Las Vegas-style gaming and spur the economy in rural areas of the state.

Tribes like the Oneida resisted statewide gambling efforts since the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act already enabled them to run casinos like the Turning Stone in Verona, and private resorts would make them compete for customers.

To get the Oneida's support of a constitutional amendment that would bring gambling to New York, lawmakers guaranteed the tribe of "geographic exclusivity" in 10 counties where no other casinos could be located.

Another provision of the deal said New York and two upstate counties, Oneida and Madison, would withdraw their opposition of the tribe's plan to expand its territory by 17,000 acres.

New York also removed another threat to Turning Stone's continuation by guaranteeing that the Legislature would approve a compact negotiated 20 years ago by Gov. Mario Cuomo that created the casino. Back in 2005, a state appellate court had ruled the compact invalid because it lacked legislative authorization.

In September 2013, three months after New York made its deal with the Oneida, the towns of Vernon and Verona filed suit .

Located 35 miles east of Syracuse, the towns claimed that territory-expansion part of the deal deprived them of the right to govern their own land.

They also said the agreement amounted to vote rigging, and that the agreement should not have preceded the state's legalization of gambling, a vote scheduled for that November.

On Nov. 5, 2013, New York passed the amendment with 57 percent of the popular vote.

The Albany County Supreme Court ruled for the state at summary judgment on the towns' claims, however, and the Appellate Division's Third Department affirmed Thursday.

Rejecting the claim about expanding the tribe's territory, the court noted that it was the U.S. Department of the Interior, not the state legislation, that put the land into trust for the Oneida.

"That decision had already been made when the agreement was executed, and it was unaffected by any state action other than the agreement's provision that the state and the counties would discontinue then-pending federal litigation that challenged the department's decision," the unsigned opinion states.

New York's actions also "did not foreclose the towns from" challenging the territory shift in separate federal litigation, the court found.

Indeed that is just what the towns did with an action that "was dismissed on the merits in 2015," according to the ruling.

A few residents had joined the town in the litigation, but the court agreed that these individuals lack standing.

The court scoffed at the challenge about preceding the November vote.

"Legislation is not invalid on the ground that its effectiveness is contingent upon the occurrence of a future event, so long as the law is 'complete when passed'and does not improperly delegate legislative authority to a future popular vote or other contingent event," the ruling states. "Here, the legislation provided that its provisions legalizing casino gambling would take effect only after constitutional amendments authorizing casino gambling were approved and ratified, an event beyond the control of the Legislature. Nothing in the legislation improperly purported to authorize voters to enact legislation or otherwise delegated the duties of the Legislature to the voters. Further, contrary to petitioners' argument, nothing in the legislation usurped the authority of future legislative bodies to repeal or modify the legislation or to adopt regulations pertaining to casino gambling."

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