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Casino presence offers highs, lows

Saturday, February 08, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM


VERONA -- In 1993, the Oneida Indian Nation opened the Turning Stone on a 400-acre parcel of nation lands in the small town, and soon after opened a 175-site RV park near the campus.

Today, it is known as a casino resort; one that spans more than 3,400 acres and hosts more than 4.5 million guests a year, and has become a veritable tourist destination in New York state.

But what about Verona?

"It's been a burden," Verona town Supervisor Owen Waller said. "Having the casino here has generated a few small businesses, a few hotels, a couple of restaurants, but it's probably devastated more privately owned restaurants and businesses -- Mom and Pop businesses."

The situation in Verona is different from the potential casino siting in Montgomery County in that the Turning Stone Resort Casino is owned and operated by the Oneida Indian Nation.

Joel Barkin, vice president for communications at Oneida Nation, said in an e-mail that Turning Stone would not be an equal comparison to a commercial casino granted by the state.

Multiple phone calls placed to Barkin throughout the day Friday were not returned.

However, according to Turning Stone's website, the Oneida Nation has grown from 1,884 employees to 4,500, with an annual payroll of $130 million. They have spent $4.2 billion on goods and services from local vendors, including $591.5 million on capital projects since 1993.

Waller's opinion was torn because of the differences between Turning Stone and a commercially-owned casino, the latter of which would contribute to town and county revenue.

"As a town, probably it has created some jobs, most of them don't live in Verona," Waller said. "It has had some impact with some low end jobs-- service jobs-- not high-paying jobs."

It also brings a lot of work into Verona's court system, which mostly generates revenue for the state, Waller said.

"It takes money out of the local economy," Waller said. "I would like to see a study done to determine how much money gets taken out of the local economy and into the gambling business."

While Waller said he would not campaign for a casino in Verona, it might be a different story if the town were included in any revenue sharing.

A report released by the New York State Division of the Budget estimates that the regional fiscal impact of a non-Indian casino in the Capital Region would be $35.5 million annually, which includes $11.4 million in host county aid.

Mick Mullins, a broker of Mullins Realty, is promoting a pair of properties off Route 30 South on the border of the city of Amsterdam and the town of Florida as a potential casino site for sale. The two properties have two separate long-time owners and are comprised of mostly open farm land with few residential neighbors, Mullins said.

The properties comprise a 512-acre site with road frontage bordering the southern side of the New York state thruway (I-90), near exit 27.

Town of Florida Supervisor Eric Mead has spoken to quite a few residents of Florida and said all the talk is positive.

"My plan is to sponsor a resolution on the Feb. 24 meeting that the town of Florida is in favor of it, if we are chosen to have a casino here," Mead said.

Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane was also in favor of having a casino sited in the county.

"The city is supporting this effort and we will be putting some resolutions to the county to support the county's efforts," Thane said.

While the county legislature has yet to speak publicly about the potential for a casino in the county, several members have supported the idea.

"I think it's a great idea; any way to bring revenue to the county and new jobs-- that's what it's all about," said County Legislature Chairman Thomas Quackenbush. "This county has been lacking for a long time and if there's a way we can attract that sort of economic development and all of the things that will stint off of it, I think that's great."

The Mohawk Valley Economic Development Growth Enterprises Corporation, which assists businesses to locate, grow and prosper in the Mohawk Valley, did not want to comment on the effects of a casino on local businesses Friday.

The Turning Stone has been around for more than 20 years and positives and negatives aside, Waller finds most people are apathetic on the subject.

"Nobody seems to want to hear about it, they're always saying "Oh you've got a casino, you're doing great," Waller said. "What gets lost in this whole gambling business is the whole sovereignty of a town that's been here for over 200 years."


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