In May, on my way to Rochester, New York, I had just cleared the state capital of Albany on the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90). There, an electronic sign on the median stunned me: “SENECA NATION: Contributing 1.3 Billion Dollars to New York State’s Economy.”

The Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y., one of three owned by the Oneida Nation of New York, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The Oneidas paid a record $85 million from their annual slot machine revenues to state and county governments in 2022, The Post-Standard of Syracuse reported in January. This represents 25% of the tribe’s total yearly slot revenues. Kevin Rivoli/Associated Press, File

As I drove on, I pondered this economic impact, in revenues and jobs, marveling at this massive contribution to the economically depressed region of upstate eastern and central New York. With dairy farms in decline and industrial factories shuttered in town after town along Interstate 90, the emergence of tribal sovereign businesses hit a core.

What if Maine deployed the same policy and logic to our relationship with the Wabanaki Nations?

On my way through central New York state, in rural Oneida County, I pointed out the tower on the left of the highway to my wife: “That must be Turning Stone Resort, owned by the Oneida Nation in New York.” I had stopped there in the mid-1990s to satisfy my curiosity and witnessed a small casino and hotel start-up, with Native American ownership and management struggling with New York state’s restrictive liquor licensing and gambling laws. That was then.

“Hey, let’s stop on our way home from Rochester,” I said. So on our way home to Maine, we stopped. If the Seneca Nation sign near Albany had stunned us, what we witnessed in the small town of Verona, New York, truly astounded us. It appears the tribal nations of New York and New York state have worked out their issues under the banner of sovereignty.

We stopped at the front desk for information and I peppered the man and woman staffing the desk with questions. “This place is huge,” I said. “Yes,” the young man said, “we’re the largest private employer in the county and in Verona.”


How big is this successful sovereign enterprise today?

There are five golf courses, three of which are 18-hole championship caliber and two nine-hole par 3 courses for us duffers. There are 20 restaurants in the 3,400-acre complex, including several award-winning establishments. There are three large hotels and two motels. The resort is listed as a Forbes Four-Star and AAA Four-Diamond destination resort and is among the top five tourist destinations in the entire state.

While the Oneida Nation of New York has a total population of 1,000, the resort directly employs over 1,000 people, and employs another 1,500 indirectly through small-business contracts and relationships. Of the employees, 54% are women, 46% are men. Sixty-two percent of the employees are white; 15% are Latino/Hispanic; 13% are African American, and the rest are mostly Native Americans.

As would be the case in Maine, if sovereign economic freedom were allowed, there just wouldn’t be enough Indians to fill the jobs that would be created. It’s a huge win-win. Just imagine what this would mean to our poorest region, Washington County, home of the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Just imagine what it do for all the white people there (91% of the population) and others struggling economically in the region. Canadians would flock to Maine for this experience, as would all the folks from the south of us. Boomtown, USA, comes to mind.

The resort offers good salaries, health insurance and benefits, and has constructed on-site housing or provided housing allowances for employees.

The rock singer Janis Joplin once said: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” It’s clear to me after visiting Turning Stone that Maine remains the loser in its inexcusable obstructive relationship with our sovereign tribes here.

The Oneida Nation is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Turning Stone this year. Incredible entertainment covers their calendar. Steve Martin and Martin Short are doing live comedy. Carrie Underwood and Peter Frampton are appearing. On Aug. 4, the Beach Boys are playing. These are all live concerts. I suggest Gov. Mills hop onto Interstate 90 and witness this for herself. She could even catch the Beach Boys.

Just imagine Maine.

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