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Politics and Government

Oneida and Madison counties at odds over casino revenue

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo
The Yellow Brick Casino in Madison County, which opened in 2015, is at the center of a renewed debate between Madison and Oneida Counties over casino revenue.

An official from Oneida County is threatening legal action over proposed state legislation that would give Madison County more casino revenue from the Oneida Indian Nation.

Madison County representatives want more money now that the Nation has opened a new casino in their county, the Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango. They say it changes the circumstances around which a 2013 agreement was reached between Oneida and Madison Counties, the Oneida Nation and New York state. It settled years of legal action among the four parties. Madison County got $11 million in back taxes and, moving forward, $3.5 million in casino revenues per year. Oneida County is being paid $48 million in back taxes over 19 years and a 25 percent share of all of the Nation's slot machine revenue for being the host county to its Verona-based Turning Stone Casino.

State Sen. David Valesky (D-Oneida) said circumstances are different now and therefore they want the same financial benefit as Oneida County gets.

"Madison County was not a host county at the time of the 2013 statute," Valseky said. "They now are obviously a host county. We’re simply trying to make what should be a rather simple change based on the principle of fairness."

Valesky has introduced legislation that would give Madison County 25 percent of the slot machine revenue the state gets from Yellow Brick, the same arrangement Oneida County has with Turning Stone. It would not affect the amount of money that Oneida County gets or the nation has to pay because it would come from the state's share.

"This has nothing to do with Oneida County, this has nothing to do with the Oneida Indian Nation, there are only two parties here that are affected: Madison County and the state of New York," Valesky said.

He said part of that money could be used to offset the costs the county incurs for additional police and fire department services.

"Yellow Brick Casino has been very successful in just the few months that it has been operational, but that certainly has an impact on the community and there are public safety issues that need to be taken into consideration," Valesky said.

Yet, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente argues that the circumstances have not changed since the settlement was finalized.

"It’s always been know that the Oneidas, per the gaming compact, could do gaming in any of the areas in the reservation, which includes both counties and so it was always known that it could have been done there [Madison County]," Picente said.

He notes that any changes to the settlement would have to be approved by all four parties, including Oneida County.

"They just can’t go in and arbitrarily change percentages or change revenue sharing because someone didn’t like the deal they got," Picente said. "There’s more to it than that."

So, Picente has sent letters to the governor, the speaker of the assembly and the senate majority leader asking them to cease action on the bill. It passed the assembly last year, but never received a hearing in the senate.

Valesky said that the legislation failed last year because it was introduced too late in the session. Valesky is optimistic it can pass this time around, but he admits that the strategy for getting all four parties to agree to a change in the settlement is still a work in progress.