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Federal official: Oneidas’ Turning Stone can’t be taxed as casino

Verona, New York (AP) August, 2007

The town of Verona has illegally assessed the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Casino and Resort, according to a top federal official.

Verona officials have assessed Turning Stone’s value as a casino property. But that violates the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which forbids taxing tribal gambling operations, James Cason, associate deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, said in a letter to town officials. The assessment could affect how much the Oneida Indian Nation would have to pay in taxes before Interior would take Oneida land into trust. The Oneidas would owe about $20 million in back taxes on the casino property based on the current assessment of about $378 million.

Because casino operations can’t be taxed, the assessed value of Turning Stone must be based “on the best and highest non-casino use of the property,” Cason said.

Town officials said they have assessed only the buildings at Turning Stone, not the casino gambling operations.

The nation has argued that the Turning Stone land has an assessed value of zero because only an Indian tribe could conduct gambling there.

In April 2005, the Oneida nation asked the Interior Department to take all 17,370 acres owned by the tribe into federal trust. Trust land is held by the federal government for the exclusive use of an Indian tribe.

The land would be exempt from taxes and local and state laws. However, the federal government won’t take land into trust until all back taxes are paid, Cason said.

Since the casino land was put back on the tax rolls in 2005, about $20 million in school, county and town taxes have accumulated, according to the town.

Cason said his department is still reviewing the trust application.

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Information from: The Syracuse Post-Standard, www.syracuse.com
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