Syracuse-area Indian casino took gamblers' EBT funds: audit

ALBANY — Public assistance recipients used taxpayers’ money to fund trips to an upstate casino, the Daily News has learned.

An audit by state Controller Thomas DiNapoli revealed several public assistance recipients used their electronic benefit transfer cards (EBTs) at the Turning Stone Casino just east of Syracuse.

The audit, which looked at the state’s Office of Temporary Disability Assistance’s handling of the benefits program, found that at least seven card holders had 20 or more transactions at the gambling parlor run by the Oneida Indian Nation.

One person used their EBT card for 71 transactions at the casino, totaling $ 3,360.

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The public assistance office “needs to do a better job ensuring that funding used to provide necessary shelter and sustenance for vulnerable families and children isn’t squandered,” DiNapoli spokesman Mark Johnson said.

DiNapoli’s office reviewed the disability assistance operations from March 2014 through December of 2016. On average, the agency handles 1.4 million EBT transactions a month.

DiNapoli lambasted the state’s Office of Temporary Disability Assistance for the oversight.

DiNapoli lambasted the state’s Office of Temporary Disability Assistance for the oversight.

(Mike Groll/AP)

While the audit concluded there was “adequate” monitoring procedures to ensure that EBT cards were not used at prohibited locations — such as liquor stores, regular gaming establishments and adult entertainment venues — it also urged the agency to adopt more energetic safeguards.

The Temporary Disability Assistance office’s “unwillingness to move beyond minimum legal requirements to expand and improve monitoring efforts is disappointing and needs to be addressed,” Johnson said.

The agency defended its procedures and noted that it has limited ability to enforce EBT restrictions at a tribal casino.

“OTDA continues take appropriate action involving transactions at prohibited locations,” said agency spokesman Timothy Ruffinen. “We will work tirelessly to exceed the 99.99% compliance rate found” in the audit and “continue to maintain the integrity of this vital system.”

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