Oneida Want to See NY’s Casino-Planning Data

     SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (CN) – With three Las Vegas-style casinos planned for upstate New York, the Oneida Indian Nation asked a court to have regulators share data with it.
     More casinos for New York have been in the works since voters amended the state constitution in 2013 to allow Las Vegas-style gaming on non-Indian land.
     Though a boon to rural areas of the Empire State that have been struggling to attract tourists, tribes like the Oneida have complained about the diversion of their customers.
     The Oneida operate two casinos east of Syracuse, including a world-class golf and entertainment resort, and one of the casino proposals that the state selected came from nearby Tyre, a Seneca County town located between Syracuse and Rochester.
     Besides the Oneida’s Turning Stone Resort, opened in 1993, and the smaller Yellow Brick Road Casino, which debuted in June, New York is home to four other tribal casinos and three Indian-owned video-gaming facilities, most of them located in central and western parts of the state.
     The complaint that the Oneida filed Friday in Schenectady County Supreme Court under the Freedom of Information Law does not mention Tyre or the other proposed new casinos by name.
     Instead, it focuses on the “analyses and projections expressly relied upon” by the Gaming Facility Location Board in choosing which three of the casino proposals – from among 16 – should apply for gaming licenses.
     In trying to characterize the studies as exempt from public disclosure, the New York State Gaming Commission maintained that the data were prepared by experts retained by the Facility Location Board and represented “intra-agency material exempt from disclosure,” according to the complaint.
     The Oneida have called this holding “erroneous,” however, claiming that the “perfunctory, conclusory response” amounts to “wrongful withholding.”
     Indeed the data they seek fall “squarely within three enumerated exceptions” to the exemption, the Oneida say.
     “They do not constitute the kind of pre-decisional, deliberative material that the intra-agency exemption is intended to protect,” the complaint states.
     The Oneida say they sought analyses that showed revenue projections from the casinos; potential cannibalization of existing gaming facilities; possible impact of competing casinos within a region; and “qualitative factors that might affect the attractiveness of any proposed gaming facility.”
     Those kinds of documents “are not exempt intra-agency materials because they reflect, explain and were incorporated into final agency policy or determination,” the Oneida contend, and so should be released.
     Commission spokesman Lee Park said Wednesday the agency had no comment on the complaint.
     The complaint asks the court to find the FOIL denial unenforceable and to direct the commission to provide data access.
     Arthur Wentlandt of Mackenzie Hughes in Syracuse represents the Oneida.
     The federally recognized Oneida Indian Nation in central New York is a member of the Six Nations, or Iroquois Confederacy, and claims a role in the birth of the United States, according to its website.
     In addition to two casinos, the Oneidas operate several marinas on Oneida Lake, a chain of gas stations and convenience stores, and other enterprises. The businesses funnel money into health care, housing and youth programs that benefit members.
     Aside from Tyre, the Gaming Commission also selected proposals for resorts in Schenectady, where the commission is located, and in the Catskills town of Thompson.
     The Oneida aren’t alone in worrying about Tyre’s inclusion.
     Nearby “racinos” – venues sporting combination horse tracks and video lottery gaming terminals – have complained about “cannibalization” of their revenue, while others have begun championing for a fourth resort closer to Binghamton, since the Southern Tier region originally was targeted for a casino boost.
     None of the three selected proposals has received a casino license yet, although that could come soon.

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