New York Oneidas to challenge liquor board

By William Kates
Verona, New York (AP)

State regulators say they will no longer allow caterers to serve alcohol at the Turning Stone resort unless the Oneidas prohibit private guests from bringing their own liquor onto the premise, the tribe’s attorney said.

In an unexpected reversal, the State Liquor Authority during October informed the tribe that it will no longer grant the catering permits unless the tribe places the prohibition on its guests, a move that tribal officials say could cripple their business and ripple through the local economy. “We are having a difficult time understanding ... especially considering the State Liquor Authority since 2001 has issued private caterers thousands and thousands of permits for private events at Turning Stone while not prohibiting private guests from bringing their own alcohol,” said Peter Carmen, the tribe’s general counsel.

Liquor authority spokesman Bill Crowley said he could not offer any immediate comment on the board’s reversal.

The Turning Stone casino has been dry since it opened in 1993. At the time, Oneida leader Ray Halbritter said the casino would not serve alcohol because of the damage it had done to American Indians.

However, tribal officials changed their mind as the casino grew into a resort with a dozen restaurants, a convention center, a showroom, more than 700 hotel rooms and three championship golf courses.

The nation applied for liquor licenses in 2001 and 2004, but both attempts stalled in the authority’s review process. In the meantime, the Oneidas allowed guests to bring their own alcohol to hotel rooms, restaurants and concerts.

In July, the nation asked permission to serve alcohol at its three golf courses as the resort prepared to host its first scheduled PGA tournament in September.

To show state officials it could properly enforce alcohol regulations, the nation banned alcohol from the resort for three months.

However, on Oct. 3, the liquor board denied liquor licenses for the golf courses. Chairman Daniel Boyle said the board would not issue liquor licenses to the Oneidas while sovereignty issues between the tribe and the state remained unsettled and in court. At that time, Boyle said the liquor board would continue to consider permit applications from private caterers on a case by case basis.

After the Oct. 3 denial, Turning Stone lifted its prohibition and began allowing private guests to again bring in their own alcohol.

Carmen said he would submit legal papers challenging the decision on three grounds.

He said it was “inappropriate” to link what private guests do “as a matter of personal choice” and the issuance of permits to third-party vendors for private events.

Carmen said if the liquor authority refuses to grant permits to caterers it would have a “significant” impact on the resort’s wedding, banquet and convention businesses. There are approximately 1,000 catered events with alcohol yearly at Turning Stone, he said.

If Turning Stone loses business, it also would impact the local vendors who provide food and supplies to the resort’s hotels and restaurants, he said.

On most issues, the Oneidas are considered a sovereign nation.

However, it has sought state permission to serve alcohol because Indian nations are governed by Congress and federal law requires tribes to be in conformity with the laws of a state to be able to serve or sell liquor on Indian land. New York law requires anyone who wants to sell or serve alcohol to obtain a license from the state Liquor Authority.