Seneca Nation, New York Agree To Tentative Terms On 20-Year Gambling Compact

Written By David Danzis on June 9, 2023
pedestrian walks in front of seneca buffalo creek casino

A new gaming compact between New York and the Seneca Nation of Indians is almost a done deal, according to multiple reports.

The Seneca Nation will continue operating NY casinos for another 20 years under a tentative agreement reached by the two sides, President Rickey Armstrong Jr. said Wednesday. He said some details are still being finalized, but a framework for an extension is in place.

“We celebrate the agreement in principle for what it means for our shared future,” Armstrong said during a brief press conference at the Nation’s William Seneca Building in Irving.

‘Fair’ compact agreement reached by Seneca Nation, New York

A spokesperson for NY Gov. Kathy Hochul said the new compact is “fair” and would “serve the interests of both parties and benefit Western New York communities.” Hochul recused herself from the negotiations due to her husband’s employment with Delaware North, a Seneca business competitor.

The tribe operates three NY casinos: Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, Seneca Allegany Casino, and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. The current gaming compact with the Nation, enacted in 2002, expires in December.

The gaming compact gives the Seneca Nation exclusive rights to offer class III gaming in the state’s Western region. In exchange, the Nation pays the state 25% of slot machine and video lottery terminal (VLT) revenue.

New deal came seemingly out of nowhere

News of a compromise between the state and the Senecas was surprising. The two parties have a contentious relationship dating back to prior gubernatorial administrations.

In 2017, the Nation stopped making its casino revenue payments. The state and the tribe ended up in court. Last year, Hochul was able to convince a bank to freeze the tribe’s financial assets, prompting the Seneca Nation to pay more than $565 million to the state.

Recently, Armstrong and the Senecas have been aggressively pursuing a new gambling compact. At times, the tribe has been directly critical of Hochul’s involvement.

“Throughout the negotiations, our focus remained on arriving at a fair, equitable deal that secured the future of our gaming operations, the final funding for our operations that provide critical services for our people and the significant jobs and economic benefits it generates in Western New York,” Armstrong said.

New compact awaits approval from Seneca citizens

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.

Earlier this month, state Sen. George Borrello introduced legislation that would create another layer of oversight on tribal gaming compacts. Under the proposal, the State Comptroller‘s office would review any gaming compacts and make recommendations, if necessary.

The governor is ultimately responsible for approving and agreeing to any tribal compacts. Borrello said his bill ensures the state’s impartiality throughout the process, noting Hochul’s personal and professional conflict.

“There is too much at stake, not only for the Senecas but for the state, to allow the process to be compromised by politics and conflict,” he said in a statement from his office. “This is a common-sense proposal that would improve the process and help ensure a fair outcome.”

Seneca reservations and casinos are within Borrello’s district. The lawmaker is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, where his proposed bill, S7502, currently resides.

PlayUSA analyst Derek Helling notes much of the authority given to the comptroller in Borello’s legislation already exists and suggests the proposal may be redundant.

For their part, the tribe has been pushing for the passage of a bill enshrining the Nation’s casino exclusivity zone into law. Sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, the bill would also allow the Nation to sue NY’s chief executive during stalled negotiations.

Albany’s legislative session ends Friday.

Photo by David Duprey / 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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