Critics Blast Gov. Hochul For State Budget Deal To Pay For New Buffalo Bills Stadium

Written By Grant Lucas on October 27, 2022
New York Governor Debate Kathy Hochul Buffalo Bills Stadium

Gov. Kathy Hochul stood by her move to help fund a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

During the gubernatorial debate earlier this week, Hochul called the Bills a staple in Western New York. As such, the decision to funnel $650 million of taxpayer dollars toward the stadium project would ensure the team does not relocate.

“You have to understand the Buffalo Bills’ market,” Hochul said. “It’s small. It’s not Las Vegas or Miami. You can’t have the same price of tickets. So, you need more assistance.”

Still, some have continued to criticize the move. Including Republican nominee Lee Zeldin.

New Bills stadium funded in part by Seneca Nation payments

In the spring, Hochul signed off on a deal that provides the Bills with $850 million to go toward the team’s $1.4 billion, 60,000-seat stadium in Orchard Park. That includes $600 million from the state and $250 million from Erie County.

Some of the cost, Hochul said, would be covered by casino revenue owed to the state by the Seneca Nation.

In March, after years of butting heads, the Seneca tribe agreed to send the state $564 million in outstanding New York casino revenue payments to the state. Briefly, it appeared as if both sides were set to remedy the tumultuous relationship. Then, a day later, the animosity returned, as Hochul announced that most of that money would go toward the Bills stadium.

Soon after, Seneca Nation president Matthew Pagels blasted Hochul in a video statement. Pagels said that Hochul “gladly declared” that New York would use hundreds of millions of dollars for a state-owned stadium, “all with no concern to the needs from across the state from wages and roads and so much more. In one breath, New York’s hostile and shameless greed was laid for the world to see.”

During the gubernatorial debate, a moderator cited a study that indicated how stadiums might not generate enough tax revenue to offset government subsidies. Hochul noted how the new stadium will create thousands of jobs. But Zeldin expressed his displeasure with Hochul sliding the stadium into the state budget at the last minute.

And that wasn’t all he had to say.

Zeldin blasts deal to provide billionaire owner with more money

Bills owner Terry Pegula boasts a net worth of $6.7 billion, according to Forbes, enough to make him the 128th-richest person in America. Pegula also owns the Buffalo Sabres.

“Giving a multimillion-dollar owner of a football team all of this tax dollars, which isn’t yours as the governor,” said Zeldin, who added that he would renegotiate the stadium deal. “You’re actually supposed to be a steward of the money.”

Additional criticism arose in the spring. Bill Hochul, the governor’s husband, serves as senior vice president and legal counsel of Delaware North, the Bills’ food concessionaire at the stadium.

Hochul defends new Buffalo Bills stadium

In a statement to the New York Post, a spokesman for Hochul, a Buffalo native, again defended the new stadium decision.

“The Bills franchise is a proven economic driver, and the economic and tax impacts generated from the team will support more than 100 percent of the public share of the new stadium. This agreement secures the Bills’ long term future for decades to come while putting to work thousands of union workers in what will be the largest construction project in Western New York history.”

Lawmakers in Erie County continue to pore over the community benefits agreement while the county’s environmental review moves forward. This process could conclude in December, followed soon after by the signing of the deal.

The Bills’ current least expires in 2023. Erie County would transfer ownership of the current stadium and adjoining complex. As a result, the state would own the stadium, practice facilities and office space, and lease it to the Bills.

Photo by AP / Mary Altaffer
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is the managing editor for PlayNY. A longtime, award-winning sports writer, Grant has covered gambling and legal sports betting since 2018, when he got his start reporting on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania industries. He now oversees PlayNY as New York expands legalized gambling to sports betting and online casino gaming.

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