NY court invalidates Oneidas Turning Stone casino - Wednesday 12th of October 2005

A New York State Appellate Court has upheld a lower courts ruling invalidating the Oneida Indian tribes Turning Stone casino because the legislature did not approve it.

But the casino is still taking bets and it is not known whether any state or federal officials will shutter it.

"My take is neither one wants to do it," said Cornelius Murray, an anti-casino attorney with the Albany office of OConnell and Aronowitz who won the lawsuit and who has filed several suits that aim to block casinos.

Turning Stone is one of the areas top employers with 4,200 workers, and Murray said shutting it could be politically unpopular.

Located 30 miles east of Syracuse, the 12-year-old casino draws 4 million visitors a year, but does not share any of its revenues with the state.

Jerry Reed, an Oneida spokesman, said the tribe would appeal the latest legal setback. "The nations compact is a completely valid compact under federal law, and no federal court has ever said otherwise," Reed said.

New York states constitution bars casinos unless they are on Indian reservations.

The Oneidas and other tribes that for years fought to build casinos in the Catskills hit another roadblock this year. The U.S. Supreme Court said the Oneidas cannot recreate reservations by buying ancestral lands.

The court sided with Sherrill, N.Y., which wants to tax firms located on land the tribe bought in 1997 for its reservation.

The ruling makes it hard for tribes to create new reservations unless they can get the federal governments approval, Murray said. But getting that approval is a lengthy process, he added.

The Oneida spokesman declined comment on the Supreme Court case, noting other tax lawsuits are pending in several courts.

New Yorks appellate court followed a precedent set by the states top court. Two years ago, the Court of Appeals invalidated the St. Regis Mohawks casino because the legislature also did not approve that compact.

But lawmakers later approved a new accord with the tribe, which lets them keep their St. Lawrence County casino.

Spokesmen for Republican Gov. George Pataki, who is not seeking another term, and Democratic Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who is running for governor, were not available.

In mid-September, Patakis counsel asked the National Indian Gaming Commission to "... immediately advise it whether the ongoing gaming activities at Turning Stone are authorized by federal law."

If Turning Stone is illegal, Platkin asked the federal agency to tell New York whether it "intends to take action and the nature of such action."

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