Timing is everything in life, and the old adage holds true for both politics and gambling.
Which is why the latest rumblings from North Country about a potential New York casino in Rochester are impacting a tentative gaming compact between the state and the Seneca Nation.
Monday’s goodwill gone by Friday
Just days after a press conference announcing a framework for a 20-year extension of the Seneca/NY compact, some Upstate lawmakers caught wind of the tribe’s plans to construct a casino either in or near the city. The proposed casino has drawn strong reactions from various stakeholders, adding further complexity to an already delicate situation.
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.
Negotiations to renew the Nation’s gaming compact have sometimes been contentious. After litigating the matter for several years, the sides just recently came to terms on back-owed gambling proceeds. The tribe ultimately paid the state more than $565 million.
NY casino gambling compact in jeopardy?
The state Senate has already approved the new compact. The Democratic-led state Assembly is next up, and only a few days remain in the current legislative session.
Concerns raised by Rochester-area lawmakers have cast doubt on its final approval.
“We feel very strongly that any potential agreement between the State and the Seneca Nation must be made with full transparency of all relevant information, and include the input of our community,” a group of lawmakers representing the region said in a statement.
Henry Wojtaszek, CEO & President of Western Regional Off-Track Betting, strongly opposed the idea of a Rochester casino, citing potential job losses at Batavia Downs and significant revenue cuts. He noted that the region already has 10 gaming facilities within a 100-mile radius of Rochester, indicating a state of market saturation.
Last year, three video lottery terminal facilities, including Batavia Downs, Finger Lakes Gaming and Hamburg Gaming, contributed a combined $140 million in taxes to New York state.
State Sen. Pam Helming, a Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee member, said any discussion of a potential Rochester casino needs to be inclusive of other stakeholders.
“It should also involve those in the region, including Ontario County and Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in my district, as well as Seneca County and del Lago, and Genesee County and Batavia Downs. A Seneca Nation casino could put these businesses at severe risk and jeopardize local jobs, tax revenues and our economy, including the farmers and small businesses that work with them, and the critical infrastructure projects and other investments they make possible in our communities.”
‘Fair, equitable’ gambling deal can be reached, says tribe
Gov. Kathy Hochul has recused herself from the compact negotiations. Her husband works for Delaware North, a hospitality and concessions company with ties to competitors of Seneca-run casinos.
The Seneca Nation is continuing to push the compact renewal. Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. described the new deal as “fair, equitable.”
“The state Senate has already passed the bill providing the governor authority to complete the deal, and we strongly encourage the Assembly to do the same,” he said in a statement to local media.