With Time Running Out, Seneca Gains Ally In Search Of ‘Equitable’ Gaming Compact

Written By David Danzis on October 13, 2023
Seneca Allegany Casino & Hotel, one of three casinos owned by the Seneca Nation of Indians, which is still searching for a compact renewal

The protracted negotiations between New York and the Seneca Nation of Indians have attracted the attention of competing gambling operators who are pushing for more financial equity and increased transparency.

The Fair Compact for All coalition consists of existing commercial casinos, racinos and labor unions representing their employees in the Finger Lakes region and Western NY. The coalition said it wants to ensure a “transparent and equitable process” in the ongoing gaming compact negotiations to protect their business interests and the communities that depend on their success.

Lance Young, vice president and general manager of del Lago Resort & Casino, is quoted in a coalition press release as saying that a “truly fair Seneca gaming compact” would account for commercial gaming interests in the region.

NY casino industry is expanding as compact talks drag on

The Seneca Nation’s 20-year gaming compact with the state expires in December, and the two sides have been working toward a new deal.

The current compact gives the Nation exclusive rights to operate class III gaming facilities in Western NY — Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, Seneca Allegany Casino and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino — in exchange for 25% of gambling revenues.

The Seneca Nation compact discussions with New York are taking place while the state’s commercial casino industry is about to expand. As a result, both sides feel economic pressure.

In addition to the four commercial gambling parlors in upstate NY, the licensing process for three downstate NY casinos is underway. On top of that, lawmakers will pursue the legalization of online casinos in New York next year.

Fair for thee may not be fair for me

The state and Seneca Nation had a tentative agreement in place earlier this year. According to reports, the Seneca Nation agreed to pay 9.5% of gaming revenue for the first year and 19.5% for the remaining 19 years.

The deal fell apart when Rochester-area and Monroe County officials came out against a provision that would have permitted the Nation to expand its gaming operations. Fair Compact for All was part of the local opposition against the legislative attempt to approve a fourth Seneca-run casino in the region.

In a press release, Chris Riegle, president and general manager of Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, said: “We look forward to working with our coalition members, local elected officials and representatives in Albany to secure a truly fair compact for all.

“We cannot and will not tolerate any middle-of-the-night deals that lack transparency, public input and data-driven economic analysis. We welcome competition, but we can’t compete without a level playing field.”

Union jobs at stake, rep says

The coalition said it “strongly believes that a new compact must treat everyone across the Finger Lakes and Western New York fairly so all communities can continue to reap the full benefits of the existing gaming operations that provide family-sustaining jobs, widespread local economic impact and support of nonprofit organizations.”

The four regional gambling operators – del Lago Resort & Casino, Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, Hamburg Gaming and Batavia Downs Gaming – say they employ more than 3,500 New Yorkers, the majority of whom are union members.

Gary Bonadonna Jr., manager of the Rochester Regional Joint Board/Workers United, is quoted as saying local jobs “would be endangered by a new Seneca compact that fails to recognize the need to preserve and protect existing gaming operations. We refuse to let that happen.

“Tourism-generated labor income in the Finger Lakes region totals $1.8 billion and represents a significant area of potential growth for the local economy. Unionized hotel workers enjoy family-sustaining wages and benefits that enable them to contribute to their respective communities.”

Tribal president optimistic that ‘progress can be made’

The Nation said its three casinos in Western NY and the Southern Tier generate thousands of local jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in local wages and more than $1 billion in annual economic impact to the region.

In a statement to a local news outlet, the Seneca Nation said the Fair Compact for All coalition was comprised of business competitors trying to influence government-to-government discussions.

“In reality, the changes to the New York gaming market, and their continued impact on the promises made to the Seneca Nation under our compact, are central to our discussions with New York state,” Seneca President Rickey Armstrong Sr. said.

“Although it has been nearly 60 days since our last negotiation meeting, we look forward to the state re-engaging in discussions soon, and hold optimism that important progress can be made.”

Time not an ally for Seneca NY gaming compact

The clock is ticking on the current compact. It expires on Dec. 9.

The Seneca Nation citizens must approve the new compact by a referendum vote. The US Department of Interior also must sign off on the deal.

Finally, the State Legislature must pass a bill authorizing the governor to enter into a new agreement.

Photo by Carolyn Thompson / 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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