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Oneida Indians urge Gaming Commission to reject Lago casino license.
NYSNYS News
Text of press release.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts:

Michael McKeon, Oneida Nation spokesman
212 681 1380

Joel Barkin, VP of Communications
315.361.8173
jbarkin@oneida-nation.org

The Oneida Nation Shines Light on Cannibal Casino and Disreputable Developer

The Nation calls on Gaming Commission to Reject License for Flawed Lago Casino

Oneida Nation Homelands (October 21, 2015) – The Oneida Indian Nation today launched a comprehensive education campaign to shed light on how the planned Lago Resort & Casino project in Tyre, Seneca County is a complete perversion of Governor Cuomo’s vision for gaming in Upstate New York State because, according to Lago’s own proposal, it would kill thousands of jobs in neighboring communities in Central and Western New York.

The Nation’s campaign will shine a light on a project rife with conflicts of interest and run by a developer with a checkered past who routinely makes misleading statements, takes environmental shortcuts and at times has engaged in deceptive and illegal activities – even including paying off a government official.

“The Oneida Nation supported the 2013 constitutional amendment to permit gaming expansion, and was happy that voters backed the measure,” Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation Representative and CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, said. “The Nation supported the initiative because we have experienced firsthand how responsible gaming can provide vital financial support for communities, creating good-paying jobs and providing opportunities for young adults to move back home for career advancement.”

Michael McKeon, a spokesman for the Oneida Nation, said, “Lago will kill jobs and actually reduce gaming revenue for the state by cannibalizing existing facilities. Moving jobs from one community to another a few exits up the Thruway is not what the Governor had in mind and will not revitalize the Upstate economy. The State Gaming Commission must reject Lago’s request for a license, and should instead expedite approval for the facilities proposed in Tioga County, Schenectady County and in the Catskills. Those casinos meet the threshold issue the Governor and the State Legislature established in the enabling legislation because they would not cannibalize other facilities.”

According to reports, development of Lago would result in a loss of approximately $105 million in gaming revenues by existing facilities and a loss of more than 1,200 direct jobs, particularly in Onondaga and Oneida Counties.[1] That’s why State Assembly Racing and Wagering Chairman Gary Pretlow called the selection of Lago by the location board a “miscarriage” of the law and the Legislature’s intent.[2]

McKeon continued, “The location board would have the state enter into the gaming business with a developer with a long record of conflicts of interest, broken promises and even suspected criminal behavior – something it’s hard to imagine any state would do. This developer has defaulted on taxpayer obligations and even paid off government officials. Upstate New Yorkers can’t afford to do business with someone we can’t trust, especially with taxpayer dollars at stake. If the location board won’t rescind its bad decision, then the Gaming Commission must reject Lago’s license request. It’s the only way to preserve the Governor’s vision for Upstate jobs.”

Tom Wilmot and his company Wilmorite, the developers of Lago Resort & Casino, have a long history of reprehensible conduct, leading up to and including the Lago Project.

In 1982, according to sworn witness testimony, Wilmot approved thousands of dollars in payments to the Mayor of Danbury Connecticut, delivered “…in an envelope containing a wad of $100 bills…” in a “rolled-up Wall Street Journal…” between “pages 34 and 35.” This came to light in testimony by Wilmorite as part of an agreement to avoid tax fraud charges.[3]

In 1997, Wilmorite was accused of fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract by tenants in a mall it owned in Chicago.[4]

In 2005, David Grandeau, who at the time was executive director of the New York State Lobbying Commission said, “In effect, [Wilmot] has admitted to criminal behavior on his own behalf.”[5]

Wilmorite has defaulted on taxpayer obligations. In Syracuse, a Wilmorite subsidiary defaulted on a $13 million loan and another subsidiary still owes Rochester $17.9 million.[6]

More recently, Wilmot has been deceiving the Gaming Commission all along when it comes to taxpayer funding for Lago. In March of 2014, a Wilmot Casino Resort representative told the Town of Fayette at a Town Board meeting that “The Wilmot family plans on being a property and sales tax payer and not asking for a tax break. There are no plans at this point to approach the IDA for a pilot program.”[7] Yet according to government emails, Wilmot was planning on seeking a PILOT agreement all along.[8] He received approval for the PILOT agreement from the Seneca County IDA that will put Upstate taxpayers on the hook for at least $20 million.

Wilmot also did not reveal a major conflict of interest: Wilmorite’s attorney for the Lago project, including PILOT negotiations with the Seneca County IDA, is Shawn M. Griffin, a lawyer at the Harris Beach law firm. Harris Beach has represented the Seneca County IDA since at least 2008. The IDA at Griffin’s direction hired former Harris Beach attorney, Rob Halpin, as counsel for the Lago project, with Harris Beach continuing to serve as general IDA counsel.[9] These are major conflicts of interest.

In July of 2015, the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court vacated the site plan approval based on a violation of state environmental law by the town board of Tyre. “The judges said the Tyre town board did not follow state environmental review law when it came to providing a clear, written record of why it declared the project would not harm the environment.”

The plaintiff in that case said, ‘The decision provides further confirmation that at every turn, the Tyre Town Board failed to meet its most basic obligations before signing off on the largest development project in our county's history.’”[10] The town has since rubber stamped yet another environmental review that found that this major casino would have zero significant adverse environmental impacts – an astounding decision that defies logic and common sense, and likely the law.

The Oneida Indian Nation’s campaign, designed to educate decision-makers and the public about the fatal flaws and disreputable developer of Lago while there is still time for the Resort Gaming Facility Location Board to rescind its decision, began today with television, radio and digital advertising, hosted at www.saynotolago.com. The ads will see significant airtime in the Albany, Syracuse and Rochester media markets.

McKeon concluded, “The Board’s recent recommendation to approve Tioga Downs’ application realigns the process with the Governor’s vision and we applaud it. We welcome gaming expansion that will help revitalize Upstate New York, but we will stand up for the thousands of people at risk of losing their jobs if Lago gets a license. They don’t have the resources to stand up to a bully like Tom Wilmot, but we do and will not back down. Lago is a perversion of the process by a disreputable developer and must be stopped.”

To view and hear the ads, visit www.saynotolago.com


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[1] Clyde W. Barrow, Professor defends report that Tyre Casino would cannibalize Turning Stone (Your letters), Syracuse Post-Standard, November 6, 2014.
2 Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, Chairman of Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee on Casino Expansion, City & State TV interview, October 9, 2015, http://www.cityandstateny.com/27/28/policy/gary-pretlow.html#.Vhwx-BFVhBf, last accessed October 15, 2015.
3 Larry Rosenthal, Mall developer details payments to former mayor, AP, January 10, 1990, at 16.
4 H. Lee Murphy, Promises, Promises, Crain’s Chicago Business, March 22, 1997.
5 John Milgram, Vacco’s casino deals may be investigated, Ottaway News Service, June 8, 2005.
6 Elizabeth Cooper, Bill: Hold casino developers accountable, Utica Observer-Dispatch, June 20, 2015.
7 Wilmot Casino Resort representative, Juris Basens, Town of Fayette, Town Board Meeting Minutes, March 13, 2014.
8 Shawn Griffin of Harris Beach Law Firm email to Tom Wilmot, et al., February 12, 2014.
9 Bennett J. Loudon, Lago Casino project faces new lawsuit, Democrat & Chronicle, June 15, 2015.
10 Michelle Gabel, Lago casino plan in Finger Lakes rejected by NY court for faulty environmental review, AP, July 10, 2015.


[1] Clyde W. Barrow, Professor defends report that Tyre Casino would cannibalize Turning Stone (Your letters), Syracuse Post-Standard, November 6, 2014.
[2] Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, Chairman of Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee on Casino Expansion, City & State TV interview, October 9, 2015, http://www.cityandstateny.com/27/28/policy/gary-pretlow.html#.Vhwx-BFVhBf, last accessed October 15, 2015.
[3] Larry Rosenthal, Mall developer details payments to former mayor, AP, January 10, 1990, at 16.
[4] H. Lee Murphy, Promises, Promises, Crain’s Chicago Business, March 22, 1997.
[5] John Milgram, Vacco’s casino deals may be investigated, Ottaway News Service, June 8, 2005.
[6] Elizabeth Cooper, Bill: Hold casino developers accountable, Utica Observer-Dispatch, June 20, 2015.
[7] Wilmot Casino Resort representative, Juris Basens, Town of Fayette, Town Board Meeting Minutes, March 13, 2014.
[8] Shawn Griffin of Harris Beach Law Firm email to Tom Wilmot, et al., February 12, 2014.
[9] Bennett J. Loudon, Lago Casino project faces new lawsuit, Democrat & Chronicle, June 15, 2015.
[10] Michelle Gabel, Lago casino plan in Finger Lakes rejected by NY court for faulty environmental review, AP, July 10, 2015.

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