Restaurant groups: Alcohol at NY casino is illegal

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 3:01 PM

Three restaurant-owner associations have sued the New York state liquor board, claiming it illegally granted alcohol catering permits for the Indian-owned Turning Stone Casino and Resort.

The associations asked a state judge to stop the Liquor Authority from issuing any more permits to Turning Stone, said David Vickers, the lawyer representing the groups from Madison, Oneida and Herkimer counties.

"If the liquor authority thinks it's OK for alcohol to be present at Turning Stone 24/7/365, then why deny them a liquor license?" Vickers said. "Why not grant them a license and gain some oversight?"

The authority has repeatedly denied a liquor license to the resort, which is owned by the Oneida Indian Nation. But it has issued thousands of temporary permits for The Beeches Restaurant of Rome to serve alcohol at Turning Stone's nightclub, lounges and five upscale restaurants. The Beeches is owned by Christopher Destito, the husband of Democratic state Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito.

The resort qualified for the catering permits by turning its restaurants into private clubs, a status that allows them to serve alcohol. Under a deal with the restaurant, The Beeches must apply daily for alcohol catering permits for each bar at each restaurant or lounge.

The lawsuit contends the restaurants and lounges do not meet the legal definition of a club.

"Calling something an event that is really an ongoing practice is really an abuse of the law," Vickers said.

Vickers said the lawsuit only addresses events that The Beeches is catering on a full-time basis, such as with a newly established restaurant deal. It wouldn't apply to catering events like weddings or banquets, he said.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, names as defendants the Liquor Authority, The Beeches and the Turning Stone American Culinary Federation Inc., an association that represents some casino employees. A court hearing was scheduled for Dec. 16.

The Oneida Nation questioned the validity of the suit, calling it "frivolous."

Authority spokesman William Crowley said the agency had not yet been served with the lawsuit and had no comment on it.

A call to The Beeches was not immediately returned.

The Madison County Hotel, Restaurant and Liquor Dealers Association; the Oneida County Chapter of Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association, and the Herkimer County Hotel and Restaurant Liquor Dealers Association brought the lawsuit.