An audit by the Office of the State Comptroller found public assistance recipients were able to use their electronic benefit transfer cards at Turning Stone Resort Casino, among other prohibited locations throughout the state.
Over a two-year span, seven public assistance recipients had 20 or more transactions at the casino with one of those having more than 71 transactions totaling more than $3,360, according to the report.
The report shows over two years, Oneida County had three potentially prohibited locations where EBT transactions occurred, of 183 throughout the state, with a total of 624 transactions totaling $59,657.20. The total amount of those transactions was the highest of any county of the state, but the locations and number of transactions were not.
According to Turning Stone officials, the resort has 18 ATMs, two of which are off the gaming floor and operated by a private bank. The other 16, which are on the gaming floor, are controlled by the Nation, said Joel Barkin, vice president of communications for Oneida Indian Nation. Barkin noted that the casino has 4.5 million visitors each year.
The casino identified that those two ATMs, owned by an outside financial institution, were the ones permitting EBT funds to be withdrawn from them, Barkin said in a statement.
“The state law governing EBT usage does not apply on Oneida Indian Nation lands,” he said. “Nevertheless, the Nation shares the state’s belief that EBT funds should not be used for gaming. Therefore, we have instructed the bank to block all further EBT withdrawals from their ATMs at Turning Stone, and we will rescind the bank’s privilege to have them here until that is completed.”
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said while he isn’t happy to hear that people are using their EBT cards at places such as Turning Stone, the report leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
The comptroller’s report only singles out the casino of 183 locations throughout the state, which Picente said seems like an unfair thing to do. Also, the report shows that there were a total of three potentially prohibited locations in Oneida County that allowed transactions over that two-year period.
The county executive wants to know a lot of information, including if the other locations have been notified and what those locations are.
“I think it’s more about what I don’t know than what I do know,” Picente said. “What I don’t know is were the seven people they used, were they from Oneida County? Were they from other counties? … When I look at this report, it doesn’t tell me where (those locations) are, so I know based on the report, there were three in Oneida County they identified, the only one I know is Turning Stone because they called and they’re cited in the report. To make this about gaming, I think it was unfair to single them out.”
Picente said based on the numbers in the report, Turning Stone is just a small part of the issue, with roughly 500 transactions done between the other two locations.
EBT cards can be used by people on public assistance programs, including Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or any other emergency or special cash benefits.
Picente said while it’s possible that those who used their EBT cards at the casino used the cash for gambling, it’s not necessarily what happened.
“We’re not talking about them going into a restaurant or on the gaming floor using a card,” he said. “These are two ATMs that are located in the perimeter of the floor. … Everybody will assume they gambled, probably a fair assessment that that’s the case, but you don’t know that either.”