Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a comprehensive agreement settling multiple, long-standing disputes between the State of New York, the Oneida Nation of Indians, Oneida County and Madison County.
The settlement paves the way to end years of litigation over property tax, land and reservation issues. The agreement would grant the Oneida Nation exclusive rights to casino gaming in Central New York in exchange for sharing a portion of gaming revenues with the state and local governments. In addition, the agreement would end legal disputes over land claims by setting a cap of approximately 25,000 acres on land that could be under the Nation's sovereignty. Further, the agreement will end unfair competition by requiring the Nation to adhere to minimum pricing standards and charge a sales-tax equivalent for cigarette sales to non-Indian customers.
"This is a fair and reasonable agreement that will benefit all parties involved and the people of the Oneida Nation, Oneida and Madison County, and all New Yorkers," Governor Cuomo said. "By working together we have reached an agreement that preserves a zone of exclusivity for casino gaming, while ensuring that gaming revenue is shared with local and state governments. The agreement also ends years of expensive and disruptive court battles for all parties involved and marks a new era of collaboration and commonality between the Oneida Nation and the State of New York."
Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation Representative, said, “Today, sovereign governments came together to begin a new partnership in shared prosperity. As a result of Governor Cuomo's focus, integrity and willingness to negotiate a fair agreement we are able to begin this new chapter in our Nation's history. This agreement is recognition that the state and counties see a value in supporting, strengthening and expanding what the Oneida Nation has built in the region over the last two decades and in building a new path for the future.”
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said, "I want to thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for his vision and leadership in bringing all parties to the table with this one goal in mind, an equitable and fair agreement that is a win-win for everyone. I also want to thank Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter for his constant willingness to be a partner in reaching such a solution. Finally, I need to thank Chairman John Becker from Madison County for working with us all to get this accomplished. With the pieces we have put in place, including revenue sharing and a settling of the lawsuits on all sides, we have reached an historic settlement that will pave the way for a true partnership that is in the best interests of all our citizens."
John Becker, Chairman of the Madison County Board of Supervisors, said, "I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership on this important issue. This issue has been discussed, debated, litigated and fought over for 20 years. Several governors have tried to solve these complex issues and attempted to bring these groups to the table in a meaningful way but only one Governor, this Governor has been able to cut through the hard feelings and struggles of the past to find a common ground."
State Senator Joseph A. Griffo said, "I have always maintained that open communications and a negotiated settlement would be preferable to litigation. While we are still reviewing all of the details, I view this as a positive step, and remain confident that we can chart a course that will be beneficial to the Oneida Nation, as well as to the taxpayers, homeowners and small businesses throughout Oneida and Madison County."
State Senator David Valesky said, "I congratulate Governor Cuomo, Representative of the Oneida Indian Nation Ray Halbritter, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, and Madison County Chairman of the Board of Supervisors John Becker on their good faith efforts to resolve these longstanding issues. 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."
Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush said, "I am pleased to see resolution on many issues that affect both NYS and the Oneida Indian Nation and the surrounding communities. Being able to move forward will have a cascading effect on my district from meeting the needs of economic development to infrastructure improvements and a sustainable revenue sharing plan to support it."
Assembly Member Anthony J. Brindisi said, “This agreement will benefit Oneida County taxpayers,” “Revenue sharing will help hold the line on our property taxes and prevent our area from being oversaturated with casinos. I commend the Governor and the Oneida Nation on coming to this common ground agreement that is a win for everyone involved.”
New York State and the Oneida Nation have had ongoing disputes since 1795. The Nation, the State and the counties have been in litigation since 1970 and there have been failed attempts to resolve the disputes on and off for decades. The Nation has operated Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona since 1993. Litigation has clouded the validity of the facility, and today's agreement will remove that cloud.
The agreement is detailed below:
Tribal Revenue Sharing with State and Local Governments and Gaming Exclusivity
Under the agreement, the Oneida Nation will receive exclusive rights to casino gaming in a ten county region of Central New York (Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, and Otsego counties). Vernon Downs will be authorized to continue its existing harness racing and video lottery facility. In exchange, the Nation will devote 25% of its net gaming revenue from its slot machines to the State of New York. Based on current Oneida gaming revenues, that would be approximately $50 million annually to the state. From the state share there would be distributions as follows:
- Oneida County, as the host county, will receive 25% of the state's payment (approximately $12.5 million based on current gaming revenues), and in addition will receive a $2.5 million annual payment from the state share to settle back property tax claims.
- Madison County will receive $3.5 million per year from the New York State share, and in addition will receive a one-time payment of $11 million from the Oneida Nation to settle past tax claims.
Settling Land Claims
Under the settlement, the Oneida Nation will agree to a permanent cap of approximately 25,000 acres of land which may be taken into trust by the Department of Interior as Nation land. Oneida and Madison County will drop their legal claims concerning land disputes against the Oneida Nation, currently pending in the courts, and the State of New York will withdraw its support for those legal claims. The Nation expressly waives its rights of sovereignty over any land over the cap amount.
Ending Unfair Competition
The settlement requires the Oneida Nation to impose a Nation sales tax that equals or exceeds the State’s and counties’ sales, use and occupancy taxes.
Under the agreement:
- The Nation sales tax would apply to all cigarettes, motor fuel, and all other sales by Indian retailers to non-Indians.
- The Nation must adhere to minimum pricing standards for cigarette products.
- The Nation must use sales tax revenues only for the same types of governmental programs to which the State and Counties devote their tax revenues
An Enforceable Agreement:
Under the settlement, the Nation agrees to waive its sovereign immunity for enforcement of the agreement. The settlement gives Federal courts authority over the agreement, including the enforcement of binding arbitration awards. The agreement requires the Nation to undergo an independent assessment to ensure compliance with all minimum tax and pricing requirements. The compliance assessment will be reported to the State.
Portions of the settlement will require New York State Legislative approval, approvals by Madison County and Oneida County, Department of Interior, the New York State Attorney General, as well as judicial approval. The agreement is not effective until these approvals are secured.