- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - With new competition looming, a New York Indian tribe is expanding its gambling business with a small “The Wizard of Oz”-themed casino in a strip mall near Syracuse.

The Yellow Brick Road Casino on Indian land near a Chittenango grocery store is modest compared with the Oneidas’ sprawling Turning Stone Resort Casino some 20 miles east. It opens on Tuesday.

L. Frank Baum, author of “The Wizard of Oz,” was born in Chittenango. Bingo games will be held in the 500-seat Wizard Hall, cocktails will be served at the Winged Monkey and guests will get chances to collect money in a “Cyclone of Cash.” The new casino also has 441 slot machines, and Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter said they plan to add table games.

The Yellow Brick Road Casino’s offerings are few compared with Turning Stone’s 2,000 slots, table games, hotels, restaurants and golf courses. But the smaller casino is close to the lucrative Syracuse market - a region that stands to become more competitive with the planned $425 million Lago Resort & Casino Hotel about an hour west of Syracuse.

Halbritter said they have long anticipated more competition and were planning to open this kind of casino for some time.

“It is more for a more convenient kind of gaming, meaning you can stop in,” Halbritter said. “Turning Stone has become such a large property, now this is so much easier to get inside, relax and just get a bite to eat.”

Lago, proposed by Rochester-based real estate developer Wilmorite, was one of three Las Vegas-style casino projects chosen in December by a state board. The other two are to be built in Schenectady and the Catskills. The new casinos would compete in a state that already has five Indian casinos and nine racinos with slot-like video lottery terminals.

Alan Woinski, president of Gaming USA, a New Jersey-based consulting and publishing company, said the Oneida’s “satellite casino” appears to be a direct response to Lago and the even more crowded market it will bring.

“It doesn’t take much to break even. It’s a very low-cost casino and it’s going to draw from a very small area,” Woinski said. “But there’s no doubt it’s strategically placed.”

The Oneidas in April called on state officials to deny Lago a casino license, saying the siting board failed to consistently apply the same standards for applicants. Halbritter on Monday said Lago’s “goal is to take business from us, the business that we created.”

Thomas Wilmot Sr., director of the Lago casino, said Turning Stone and another area competitor, Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, will continue to remain “significantly profitable” after their planned opening in 2016. And he doubted that the Oneida’s small slots operation near Syracuse would have much of an effect on the bottom line of their resort casino.

“There will be some impact. But it will be very minor,” Wilmot said.

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