Conflict Removed, Gov. Hochul Expects To Return To Seneca Compact Negotiations

Written By David Danzis on August 3, 2023
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There is a new twist in the ongoing saga between New York and the Seneca Nation of Indians over a new gambling compact, and it’s a game-changer for both sides.

According to reports Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s husband, Bill Hochul, is resigning from a regional gaming competitor of the Seneca’s later this month, which frees up the governor to insert herself directly into the New York casino negotiations.

Up until now, Bill Hochul’s role as general counsel and senior vice president at Delaware North presented a conflict for the governor, who had to recuse herself from talks with the Seneca Nation. NY and the Nation nearly came to terms earlier this year but the state legislature did not approve the deal before the session ended in June.

Spectrum political anchor Susan Arbetter was the first to report on Bill Hochul’s resignation, which takes effect Aug. 15. Bloomberg News reporter Zach Williams retweeted Arbetter with a quote from Hochul, who was responding to a question about how her husband’s resignation affects the Seneca compact negotiations. The governor reportedly said: “Any recusals will be eliminated when his job is gone.”

Future of three NY casinos hangs in the balance

The current gaming compact was signed in 2002 and expires on Dec. 9, 2023.

The tribe currently operates three casinos: Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, Seneca Allegany Casino and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. The 2002 gaming compact gives the Seneca Nation exclusive rights to offer class III gaming in the state’s Western region in exchange for 25% of gambling revenues.

To say the relationship between NY and the Seneca Nation has been tense would be an understatement.

In 2017, the two sides wound up in court after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo sued the tribe for unpaid gaming revenues. The Nation paid the state nearly $565 million worth of outstanding casino revenue payments in 2022.

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Hochul took office in 2021 while the court battle was raging. She froze the tribe’s bank assets on the grounds that the funds were generated in New York and belonged to the state.

The governor has recused herself from talks to secure a new gambling compact because of a conflict of interest. Her administration, however, has been under no such limitation.

In June, the Seneca Nation held a press conference saying that a deal had been reached, in principle, and details would be ironed out in the coming days. Hochul’s office confirmed the framework of a new gambling compact was in place. A few days later, the state Senate voted in favor of authorizing the governor to approve the gaming compact.

The deal fell less than three weeks later.

Rochester-area lawmakers caught wind of a previously undisclosed plan for the Senecas to expand its NY casino presence with a fourth casino. As a result, the state Assembly punted on voting on the compact approval before the legislative session concluded.

The tribe accused the governor of sabotaging the deal to benefit her husband’s employer. Hochul pointed fingers at the local lawmakers, who were members of her own political party and publicly said they felt betrayed by the governor’s lack of transparency.

Now, everybody must pick up the pieces, come back to the table and reach a new deal before the current compact expires later this year.

Photo by Hans Pennink / AP Photo
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David Danzis

David Danzis is a writer for PlayNY. A New Jersey native and honors graduate of Rutgers University, he served as a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, earning statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports and business. Today, he contributes to New York's growing legal gambling landscape, including online sports betting and potential legalization of NY online casinos. David lives in Mays Landing with his wife and two children. When not on the beach, a golf course, or snowboarding, David enjoys watching his beloved New York sports teams — Yankees, Jets, Rangers and Knicks.

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