Free of state rules, Native American casino plans June 10 opening
Wednesday 20th May 2020
VERONA -- Free of state regulations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oneida Indian Nation's Turning Stone casino, along with two others in Central New York, is tentatively set to open June 10, which is weeks before other state-regulated facilities may re-start their operations.
The Oneida County-based Turning Stone would be the second Indian-owned facility in New York to open - the Cayuga nation's Lakeside Entertainment video slot parlor in Union Springs, Cayuga County, opened on May 15.
"This initial reopening is part of a multi-phased approach to restore full operations at the Oneida Indian Nation's award-winning New York properties with a focus on the health and safety of guests and employees," a news release by the tribe said.
"The determination to open on June 10th follows the Oneida Indian Nation's careful monitoring of the reopening of businesses in Central New York, with specific attention to the metrics New York State and the local counties have published on a daily basis."
Also slated for re-opening is the Oneida's smaller Yellow Brick Road and Point Place casinos in Chittenango, Madison County, and Bridgeport, Madison County, respectively.
There will be limits though, as patrons will have to come from within a 120-mile range.
That means people from Albany and most other communities in the Capital Region can visit, but not those from New York City or other states. The Oneidas said they will check IDs to verify where people are from.
Buffets will be closed and dining facilities will enforce the six foot separation rule. Concerts and other events are postponed until further notice and there will be enhanced cleaning.
"The comprehensive plan we have developed for the limited reopening of our operations is based on guidelines and input," said Oneida Indian Nation Representative and Oneida Nation Enterprises CEO Ray Halbritter.
Plans for the reopening come as state-regulated casinos, including Rivers in Schenectady as well as Racinos, or combination harness track and video slot parlors such as Saratoga Casino, remain closed. Under the state's plan to reopen by region and by category of business, casinos won't likely open until late June.
That's because they are in the Phase 4, or last business category, to be allowed to open.
Under the state plan, six regions including the Capital Region are currently re-opening under Phase 1, which allows businesses such as retail curbside pickup, construction and agricultural enterprise to re-start.
The other Phases are brought in after a two-week waiting period for each.
Also in Phase 1 is Western and Central New York, as well as the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and North Country.
It wasn't immediately clear what impact the tribal openings would have on the state-regulated casinos and racinos. While they all compete for the gaming dollar, they are separated by mileage and marketing strategies.
Saratoga Casino spokeswoman Amy Brannigan said some of their patrons occasionally drive the 100 miles to Turning Stone and they may do so after June 10.
But she added, "I hope that when the time comes and we re-open our doors they are going to want to come back to us."
She said most of the roughly 600 employees at the racino have been laid off.
"We're currently developing a comprehensive reopening plan," added Al Roney, spokesman for Schenectady's Rivers casino.
Meanwhile, the facility's approximately 1,000 employees remain on furlough until June 30.
The tribal openings could pose competition to the older racinos around the state, whose owners have previously said the combination of Indian facilities and state-regulated casinos opening during the last three years have dented their profits.
"They've got to wonder what's going to happen when the tribal casinos are opening," said Bennett Liebman, a former gubernatorial advisor and Albany Law School gaming expert.
Others believed having the tribal casinos open first could help pave the way and provide lessons for other re-openings.
"It's good for me at Tioga and Vernon. We have three weeks to see how it goes to see what's working and what's not," said Jeff Gural, who owns the Tioga Downs Casino in Nichols, Tioga County and Vernon Downs racino in Vernon, Oneida County.
Turning Stone is five miles from Vernon Downs.
Because tribal casinos are on sovereign Indian nation lands, the state can't tell them when to open or not.
That idea was tested in May when the village of Union Springs sued in efforts to close Lakeside down but lost, according to the Auburn Citizen.
As state-regulated casinos wait to re-open, the coronavirus pandemic is already impacting other phases of the gaming industry.
On Tuesday, for example, the Saratoga Casino racino announced that earlier plans to purchase the Wildwood Casino in Cripple Creek, Colo., fell through due to complications of the pandemic.
Both parties said that the termination was necessary due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus health crisis.
"The pandemic has resulted in a need for each company to focus on its respective businesses, and has impacted the companies' ability to realize the benefits of the transaction during these unprecedented times," according to the companies.