[toc]After months of uncertainty about relations between Seneca and New York state, it is now very clear where both parties stand.
That clarity did not come from a meeting between the two parties, unfortunately. Instead, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a stand in the press. Now Seneca Nation and the state are playing a giant game of chicken.
Cuomo threatens to open new casino in Seneca territory
Cuomo attended an economic development meeting on Tuesday. He made his first public comments on the Seneca negotiations, which were not exactly friendly.
Buffalo News reported Cuomo not only is not open to negotiate, he is ready to break the non-compete element of the compact.
“They’re not fulfilling the compact and their right to exclusive gaming is gone. I have no doubt that we would get companies from around the world to bid on casino rights in the Buffalo/Niagara area. I have no doubt. Look, we could potentially create more jobs with a different operator.’’
Cuomo and Seneca are at odds over what exactly the terms of the compact entail. Earlier this year, Seneca Nation announced it would no longer be making payments to the state from earnings of its three New York casinos.
According to tribal representatives, their obligation to pay ended in December of last year. However, the state and the tribes mutually agreed to extend the compact through 2023. The problem is the extension did not include specific language indicating the tribe’s obligation to pay went through 2023 as well.
Things got serious when Seneca missed its first scheduled payment in July. Once local lawmakers realized the tribes were not bluffing, they started worrying. Many of them reached out to Cuomo’s office begging him to talk with tribal leaders.
After five months with no meeting between the two parties, Cuomo did not exactly take their advice.
Seneca balks at idea of new casino
A major component of the casino compact is exclusivity in the northernmost part of the state. The value of that exclusivity arguable dipped when Cuomo allowed commercial casinos to open upstate though. Competitors like Rivers and del Lago are already close to Seneca turf. Now Cuomo is ready to go after Niagara and Buffalo, homes of two of the three Seneca casinos.
Seneca Nation President Todd Gates hinted at the new competition in his response to Cuomo’s new casino threat.
“It will do poorly,” he said. “The market is saturated.”
He also called Cuomo’s actions shameful, and said he was angry on behalf of his tribe. He has a point about market saturation too. Both Rivers Casino and del Lago revenues are not meeting expectations. As a result, many experts believe the New York casino market cannot sustain all four of the commercial properties upstate.
More than the statement itself, tribal leaders are angry that Cuomo put off a meeting to negotiate with excuses, knowing he never planned to engage them.
Meanwhile, local lawmakers are caught in the middle. They are also the people whose communities benefit most from the $110 million in annual payments from Seneca. Niagara Mayor Paul Dyster issued a statement about Tuesday’s events. In it, he acknowledges his preference is a negotiation, not this increasingly volatile standoff:
“We know that the governor has the best interests of Niagara Falls and its residents at heart, and we remain confident that when this matter is resolved that those interests will be taken care of. We remain hopeful that a negotiated settlement can be reached and remember that sometimes the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”