New York Tribal Casinos Open As Commercial Facilities Await OK

Posted on June 24, 2020

New York tribal casinos are using their freedom to offer gambling.

While gaming facilities in the state, like Schenectady and Tioga Downs, remain closed, others, like Turning Stone and Yellow Brick Road, are welcoming guests again.

It’s uncertain how much longer the tribal casinos will be the only parties offering casino gaming in NY. Due to ongoing restrictions, it’s also debatable how much of an advantage NY tribal casinos are reaping.

Why New York tribal casinos are open

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo explained this situation succinctly.

“Tribal nations are just that; they’re nations. So they are not bound by state laws.”

Tribal casino operators aren’t free to do whatever they want, however. They abide by the tenets of gaming compacts they form with the US government. Some tribes also form compacts with individual states. Many do so to ensure that states won’t authorize commercial casinos to compete with them in their regions.

The compacts held by the Oneida Indian Nation and Seneca Nation of Indians don’t dictate the terms for closing and other protocols amid a pandemic. For that reason, the closures of tribal casinos in NY in March were voluntary.

Commercial casinos in NY, on the other hand, are regulated by the New York State Gaming Commission. They are also subject to city, county and state authorities, including Gov. Cuomo.

Because Gov. Cuomo has yet to initiate the fourth phase of the state’s reopening plan, NY’s commercial casino operators are still barred from doing business.

Safety restrictions at NY tribal casinos

Some tribal casinos in New York state are already open. These Oneida and Seneca nations facilities include:

The Seneca Nation plans to open the Seneca Buffalo Creek on Thursday (June 25) and the Seneca Allegany on July 2. Provided they follow through, all Oneida and Seneca casinos in NY will be open in time for the Fourth of July.

Guests should expect to see some differences in their experiences, however.

The Oneida Nation will not allow any patrons who reside outside of a 120-mile radius of their facilities to enter the casinos.

The Seneca Nation also has similar safety procedures. Casino-goers should expect to encounter:

  • Temperature screenings for all workers and guests upon arrival.
  • Personal protective equipment for all workers.
  • Required use of face masks by guests in close proximity areas.
  • Controlled social distancing measures, including the reduction of gaming positions.
  • Enhanced sanitation procedures at all properties.

Early returns suggest these new procedures haven’t been sufficient to deter gamblers. When the Turning Stone reopened on June 10, patrons were lined up around the building.

If Gov. Cuomo gives the go-ahead to commercial operators soon, that might cut into tribal operators’ current monopoly. For the time, however, the Oneida and Seneca casinos are the only ones playing the game in the state of NY.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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