Heading for an Indian casino on Thanksgiving: gambling venues expand despite addictions that are crippling the poor and middle class

Leon R. Koziol, J.D.

Parenting Rights Institute

Citizen Commission Against Corruption, Inc.

In a recent story at Syracuse.com (Post Standard), reporter Elizabeth Doran emphasizes that “Casinos are popping up all over New York state, and their locations are getting closer and closer to Onondaga County.” She goes on to ask, “So why not open a casino in Syracuse or somewhere right in Onondaga County, home of 468,000 people?”

The answer is then revealed in the Native-American traditions of the Onondaga Indian Nation, the central tribe of the once powerful Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy of upstate New York. Its leadership and members continue to adhere to principles that oppose gambling and the vast harm it causes. But elsewhere in the confederacy, tribes such as the Mohawks, Oneidas and Senecas are building or expanding casinos that rival the resorts of Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

The most prominent among them is the Oneida Indian Nation Turning Stone Casino which boasts an entertainment mecca of night clubs, restaurants and high-end shows, PGA-level golf courses, and a skyscraper hotel that rises 20 floors or 250 feet above the surrounding cornfields. The Mohawks have a small operation at the Akwesasne (St. Regis) reservation on the northeast corner of the state straddling the border with Canada while the Cayugas of the Finger Lakes region are set to open their first venue limited for the time being to Class II gaming.

In contrast, a fifth tribe of the confederacy, the Seneca in the western part of the state, is poised to overtake the dominance of the Oneidas with its casinos in Buffalo, Salamanca and Niagara Falls. The latter features a tower slightly taller than the one at Turning Stone. The Oneidas got a jump on their sister nations based largely on the fact that they were the only tribe in the confederacy that sided with the Americans during the Revolutionary War.

But it did not used to be like this. When Turning Stone opened in 1993, it was little more than a bingo-sized facility premised on a commitment to prohibit alcohol, smoking, and nefarious activity. Today, it is all that and more with rampant drug use, a full range of alcohol service, an underworld presence and prostitution of various kinds. Most recently it boasted a sports book betting parlor that displaced its Harvest Buffet cafeteria. The scene features a bar, restaurant, a range of sporting events on its many widescreens, and now the capacity to bet on terminals apart from the teller booths.

Nowhere were these ominous developments mentioned in a pair of articles this week in the New York Times. The first, authored by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Emily Steel, focused on David Portnoy, the mega on-line sports betting figure who operates Barstool Sports. After months of research, she detailed how the gambling industry has yielded epic levels of addictions with impotent oversight.

Ms. Steel references the sexual harassment, misogyny, and racism allegations surrounding Portnoy’s sudden rise to billionaire status. She goes on to verify the corrupted industry by documenting highly deceptive practices like those of FanDuel which attracted countless victims through promises of refunds for any betting losses only to condition payment on their application to continued gambling.

Not surprisingly, David Portnoy lambasted the author the next day on the Tucker Carlson show. But his focus was on defending himself while ignoring the “Elephant in the Courtroom” he helped create. Indeed, he had no comments regarding the lack of federal funding for gambling addictions, the undue deference to the states which benefit from the tax revenues, and their collective expenditure of a mere $93 million in a $250 billion betting industry. That came to .03% of amounts spent on substance abuse.

There have been no studies to show how this industry has destroyed entire families, businesses, worker productivity and child support capacities while helping elevate crime to unprecedented levels. It may be that the central firekeeper of the Iroquoi Confederacy known as the Onondaga Indian Nation had it right all along. It has wisely distinguished itself as a people genuinely committed to earthly preservation and superior moral fiber as they journey toward a more welcoming sky world.