According to court documents provided to The Citizen, the residents claim that Wimorite, a Rochester-area developer behind the proposed Lago Resort & Casino, initially said it didn’t need tax breaks to build the gaming resort but eventually applied for exemptions from the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency.
The lawsuit charges that IDAs may not award tax benefits to casinos unless the facility has a link to horse racing and that there was a conflict of interest because the same law firm, Harris Beach, was representing Lago Resort & Casino and the Seneca County IDA.
The plaintiffs also contend that the Seneca County IDA failed to disclose the amount of property tax benefits Lago would receive.
“When New York state began implementing the constitutional amendment to expand gaming, the Lago proposal in Tyre was very clear about its commitments: it said that it did not need taxpayer dollars for its proposed new gaming facility,” the petitioners said in a statement. “Yet Lago’s owners secured millions of dollars of special tax breaks — and did so through a process predicated on influence peddling.”
In February, the Seneca County IDA announced a tax benefits package for Lago Resort & Casino. The agreement includes $16 million in state and local sales tax exemptions and $3.35 million in state and county mortgage tax exemptions, according to a document published on the county IDA’s website.
As part of the agreement with Lago, the casino will pay $45.3 million to the county and Waterloo Central School District over a 20-year period beginning in 2016. The funds include $5.5 million Route 318 infrastructure improvements.
Route 318 is located near the proposed site of Lago Resort & Casino.
The casino, which will include 2,000 slot machines, 85 tables, a 217-room hotel and entertainment dining amenities, is expected to generate at least $59 million in direct state tax revenues in its first year and up to $96.1 million in the fifth year, according to a report released by the state Gaming Facility Location Board, which has recommended Lago for a gaming license.
Lago is expected to generate at least $2.5 million in indirect state tax revenues in its first year and up to $4.1 million in year five. Seneca County would receive at least $851,000 in host county tax revenues in the first year and as much as $1.2 million in year, according to the report.
This is the latest legal challenge submitted by residents who oppose the Seneca County casino project. Casino Free Tyre, a group which opposes Wilmorite’s plans, has sent a letter to the state Gaming Commission urging the panel to reject Lago’s application for a license.
In this new lawsuit, the residents are being represented by Williams & Connolly, a Washington D.C.-based law firm. The firm’s clients include the Oneida Indian Nation, which opposes the proposed Seneca County casino.
The tribe believes the facility, which would be located near exit 41 of the New York State Thruway, would have a negative impact on their existing businesses, including Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona.
Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for Lago, said they believe the case, like other legal challenges brought by Tyre residents, is “without merit.”
“It’s curious that the handful of local Lago opponents are employing the Oneidas’ high-powered Washington D.C. law firm to represent them in their latest meritless lawsuit,” Greenberg said.