The current gaming compact between New York and the Seneca Nation of Indians expires in less than 90 days. But the two sides do not appear – at least not publicly – to be any closer to a new deal than they were this summer.
The lack of progress is concerning to some, including a state lawmaker representing a Western NY district where the tribal casinos employ thousands of residents.
Assemb. Joseph Giglio, R-148th District, recently told a local newspaper he was unaware of any movement in talks between the state and the Seneca Nation. The New York casinos in Giglio’s district are the region’s largest employer, he says.
“I haven’t heard anything at all,” he told the Olean Times Herald.
“That’s what makes me a little nervous. They are running against the clock. I can’t say for sure that nothing is going on, but they are running out of time.”
‘Time is of the essence’ for NY casino deal
The Seneca tribe currently operates three casinos: Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, Seneca Allegany Casino and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. That means the tribe is well-positioned to offer a New York online casino, if and when iGaming is legalized down the road. So this delay doesn’t have an impact there.
But when it comes to brick-and-mortar casinos, the current NY 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.
That 20-year deal expires on Dec. 9.
In a statement last month, Seneca President Rickey Armstrong Sr. noted that “time is of the essence.”
“Securing a fair compact is our highest priority, and I look forward to having more direct dialogue with the state. We have less than 90 days before our compact expires. The economic impacts and benefits of our negotiations are monumental, not just for the Seneca people, but for our thousands of employees, business partners, and all of Western New York.”
So close to a deal, yet so far away
In June, the two sides announced a tentative agreement. According to local media 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 less than a month later after Rochester-area lawmakers sounded the alarm on a clandestine proposal contained within the legislative language to add a casino in the city.
The ticking clock adds tension to an already strained relationship.
The Seneca Nation and the state of New York went to court in 2017 over disputed gambling revenue disbursements. The legal battle lasted for years before the Nation ultimately paid $565 million in 2022.
Further complicating matters is the governor’s position.
Gov. Kathy Hochul had to recuse herself from negotiations with the Senecas until just a few months ago due to her husband’s former role with a gambling competitor. William Hochul had worked for Delaware North, a direct competitor of the Seneca Nation’s casinos, but recently resigned.
‘Catastrophic’ cost of not getting NY casino deal done
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 Hochul to enter into a new agreement.
Giglio, the state lawmaker from the Western region of NY, urged state negotiators to prioritize the Seneca gaming compact.
He reportedly told the Olean Times Herald:
“Why aren’t they paying more attention to it? What’s going on? I’m very frustrated. This should have been done a while ago. Everybody will pay the price for a delay, including the state. It would be catastrophic.”