Decades of litigation now over after Oneida Nation deal

By JOLEEN FERRIS

With the stroke of a pen, Oneida and Madison County leaders, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Oneida Nation leader Ray Halbritter ended five decades of litigation, signing an historic agreement, essentially putting an end to the land claim.

The parties signed the agreement in the Red Room of the Executive Chamber at the State Capitol in Albany Thursday afternoon.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente and his Madison County Counterpart, Board of Supervisors Chairman John Becker, have been legal adversaries with the Oneida Nation their entire time in office.

But on Thursday, they became partners in perpetuity with the Oneida Nation, signing an agreement that will affect residents of their county long after they are gone.

"This is about the future generations. I mean, we've constructed a deal not for us, not for the next five years; for a lifetime," said Picente.

The agreement settles the land claim, giving the Oneida Nation exclusive rights to casino gaming within 10 central New York Counties: Caygua, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego and Otsego Counties. In exchange for the exclusivity, the Oneida Nation will devote 25% of its net gaming revenue from its slot machines to New York State.

Approximately 25% of the state's share will go to Oneida County, as the host county, in a figure calculated to approximately $12.5 million annually. An additional $2.5 million annually for the next 20 years will satisfy back property tax claims.

"We were approached in the spirit of negotiation, spirit of resolution, spirit of working together, spirit of compromise and that's what was necessary," said Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter about the Nation's new partnership with Oneida and Madison Counties and New York State.

Halbritter said immediate plans involve continuing to ensure Turning Stone Resort and Casino's growth and prosperity.

Picente points out that the 25% figure could mean a different dollar amount annually, depending on how much revenue Turning Stone's slots earn.

"The contract actually requires specific audit function by the state of New York, by the Oneidas, and all included so there will be fiscal oversight in terms of making sure our numbers are accurate," says Picente.

As for a use for Oneida County's anticipated revenue, Picente says-improvements to communities that for years have suffered due to a lack of revenue sharing from the Oneida Nation.

"Verona, Vernon, Sherrill, in terms of getting improved infrastructure, water resources, expansions, that's the kind of things we can do with this revenue".

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