Casino industry going down the Yellow Brick Road

Jun 3, 2015

Gaming facilities have some new competition in upstate New York. The Yellow Brick Road Casino has opened in Chittenango, a small town about 20 miles east of Syracuse.  

Gamblers started waiting along a yellow brick path in front of the casino, the night before the opening; From Albany, from nearby Syracuse and all around central New York.

The $20 million casino was built in less than six months inside an abandoned storefront in an underused strip mall, just outside the village that’s claim to fame is that it’s the birth place of L. Frank Baum, who wrote the book the “Wizard of Oz.”  

Oneida Nation spokesman Ray Halbritter greeting some of the first guests at the Yellow Brick Road Casino on opening day.
Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The Oneida Nation will run the casino. Spokesman Ray Halbritter says it fuses gaming and the iconic Oz brand. And he believes it’s ultimately good for the small town. 

"I think the community, Chittenango in particular, can benefit from that theme. They have the Oz-Stravaganza. But I understand there’s some additional refinements they’re doing to their buildings to make it more Oz-like and tourist like,” said Halbritter.

Halbritter says the casino is bringing jobs to the local economy.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

"There’s going to be 60,000 square feet of gaming space, 250 full time jobs. We had another 300 construction trade jobs.”  

Whether it boosts existing business in the nearby village remains to be seen. Mark Cooper, owns the New York Pizzeria on the village’s main street, and he’s not sure how it will play out. But he’s hopeful. 

"You know it’s possible that a lot of people come and go to the casino, will drive by and say, ‘there’s a pizza place, let’s stop there, it’s going to be cheaper to go there. Or we can eat there first. Or we’re going to go eat there, but we lost all our money, so let’s go get a slice of pizza,” said Cooper.

This is the latest move in the growth of gaming in New York state. There are five upstate Indian casinos already, including Turning Stone in Verona, that’s also run by the Oneida Nation. They’ll be joined soon by three other Las Vegas-style casinos approved by the state last year, in an economic development move, that includes the new Lago casino between Syracuse and Rochester.

But Halbritter doesn’t think the casino market is saturated.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

"We’ve always anticipated there would be new gaming in the state of New York. We just wanted it to be in a way that would bring new business, and doesn’t just shift it around the state,” said Halbritter.

At this point a trip down the yellow brick road will only lead to 430 slot machines and a 500-seat bingo hall, but Halbritter expects there will also be table games added in the future.