Decades of contentious lawsuits between the Oneida Indian Nation and the State of New York have ended in an historic agreement that resolves all disputes over land rights, tax issues, gaming exclusivity and profits between the two sovereigns. Oneida Indian Nation owns Oneida Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network.
Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative and CEO of Oneida Enterprises, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the monumental agreement that will give tens of millions of dollars to the state and a guaranteed gaming exclusivity zone and recognition of the Nation’s reservation at a shared press conference in Albany, the state capital, on May 16.
“This is indeed a defining moment in the history of the Nation and New York State,” Halbritter said. “Together today we begin a partnership in our shared prosperity in our upstate region, It’s not unlike the historical relationship the Oneida Nation had in the historical time of the revolutionary war when we were all under the Treaty of Canandaigua. We recognize together with the United States that peace and friendship shall be perpetual between our Nations and we’re here in that spirit today.”
"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," 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."
Also attending the press conference were Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, Madison County Chairman John Becker, and Madison County Supervisor Rocky DiVeronica, who chairs New York State Association of Counties, and other county and state officials.
The deal, which was hammered out in recent negotiations, has to be approved by the Department of the Interior, county and state legislatures and the state attorney general before it is finalized.
Under the agreement, the Oneida Nation will get exclusive gaming rights in central New York and in turn will share 25 percent of its net slot revenues to the state. Initial estimates put the amount of revenue at approximately $50 million a year, Cuomo said. “This agreement is similar to those that have been struck with the Senecas and with the Mohawks,” Cuomo said.
The exclusivity zone includes Onondaga (Syracuse), Oneida, Madison and Cayuga counties. Additionally, the Oneida County Sheriff will cross-deputize Oneida Nation Police officers.
The exclusivity agreement means that central New York will not be eligible for commercial gaming if commercial gaming is approved by voters at a referendum and subsequently by the legislature.
New York State will pay 25 percent of the revenue it receives from the Nation to Oneida County, “which is the host country of the Oneida’s Turning Stone Casino,” Cuomo said. The initial estimate for that payment is $12.5 million annually. Madison County will receive a one-time payment of $11 million to compensate for past tax claims. Additionally, the state will make annual payments of $2.5 million to Oneida County and $3.5 million to Madison County from its revenue share.
The Nation agreed to a permanent cap of about 25,000 acres of land to be taken into trust by the Interior Department—17,000 in Oneida County and 8,000 in Madison County.
“This was a very important provision because this will provide a cap on the amount of land that can go into trust; it will afford permanence to Oneida (County) and to Madison and it effects the resolution of the land claims,” Cuomo said. Oneida and Madison counties will drop their legal claims against the Oneida Nation and New York State will withdraw any support for those claims, Cuomo said.
The Nation also has agreed to impose a sales tax equal to or greater than New York State and counties’ taxes on cigarettes, motor fuel and other items sold by Indian retailers to non Indian customers and must adhere to the state’s minimum pricing for cigarettes. The tax revenue must be used for government programs as they are now used.
The agreement is enforceable, Cuomo said. The Oneida Nation has agreed to waive its sovereign immunity from lawsuits and enforcement, if any, will take place through the federal courts. The agreement requires and annual independent audit.
Cuomo is the only governor who has been able “to bring us to this moment,” Halbritter said. “We believe this agreement is recognition by Governor Andrew Cuomo that the State of New York sees a major value in supporting, strengthening and expanding what the Oneida Nation has built in our region, and their desire to be a partner in doing so. They have come to the realization that ongoing disputes do not benefit our region, and that respectful diplomacy is the better course. The Oneida Nation looks forward to continuing to work with Governor Cuomo to do its part to help make our community a better place to live,” Halbritter said.