Clock Is Ticking For Updated Gaming Compact Between Seneca Nation, New York

Written By Grant Lucas on May 31, 2023
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Pressure continues to mount on a new gaming compact between the Seneca Nation and the state of New York. Yet how, when and if the deal gets done remains up in the air.

The Seneca are demanding a “fair” agreement with the state, with Tina Abrams, the senior member of the Seneca Council, emphasizing that now is the time for “New York to honor its relationship with the Seneca Nation.”

“We hear a lot of words coming from Albany about ‘New York values, social equality, health care as a human right, housing for all,'” Abrams said during a press conference, “but our people do not survive on words.”

Added Seneca Council member Odie Porter:

When you build a facility, and you spend $2.1 billion on this facility, you do it with the understanding that there is going to be some trust in your partner. Exclusivity keeps the investments going.”

Hochul recused herself from compact negotiations

For years, the Seneca Nation has pushed for an updated gaming compact as the tribe looked to protect its exclusivity while the Empire State expanded legal gambling.

Now, though, it appears the tribe will no longer directly negotiate with Hochul. The NY governor found herself in simmering water when it was discovered that Delaware North, a rival of the Seneca, employed her husband Bill Hochul. This called into question whether Hochul could fairly deal with the Seneca.

As a result, Hochul recused herself from negotiations. Instead, Kathryn Garcia, director of state operations, and counsel Liz Fine have stepped in.

“I am not involved,” Hochul told reporters this week. “That is something I set up long ago, it was important to assure people that the process will have the integrity that’s required and remove any doubt as to whether or not that’s going to happen. So I feel comfortable that it’s being managed by other people.”

Can NY governor remain impartial during discussions?

Certainly, the Seneca express concern with the expansion of legal gambling in New York. Not only does the state feature retail sports betting at commercial and tribal casinos, not only does the Empire State boast a burgeoning online sports betting industry, but also the governor last year authorized the opening of three downstate NY casinos.

Specifically, though, the tribe looks to ensure that no new casinos encroach on its territory. This, obviously, fuels the Seneca’s fire to get a deal done in short order.

All that said, while Hochul recused herself and the NY governor expressed optimism that her replacements could get a deal done, the Seneca Nation is skeptical that Hochul can step away completely.

“I think she has to know, to some degree, and agree, to some degree,” Rickey Armstrong Sr., president of the Seneca Nation, told The Buffalo News. “I also think she’s pushing the buttons behind the scenes.”

While Garcia and Fine will meet face-to-face with the Seneca, Armstrong noted, Hochul will still have “interaction with them, and she probably discusses (the negotiations). I just hope it stays fair on our end.”

Hochul’s press secretary, Hazel Crampton-Hays, said in a statement that the state remains “fully committed to continuing to meet, discuss and negotiate a compact, and we are confident that the process will continue in a way that best serves New Yorkers.”

Bad blood exists between state, tribe

The Seneca Nation has had a tumultuous relationship with the state leading up to this point.

But the tribe has not taken its foot off the gas pedal to update its gaming compact with the state. This delay itself creates suspicion that the Hochul administration is not negotiating in good faith.

For the Seneca, it certainly didn’t help when, last year, the tribe sent the state $564 million in outstanding casino revenue payments. At the time, it seemed like a strong and positive step toward a new compact. However, as then-Seneca president Matthew Pagels put it, the state recouped these payments after it “intentionally and unnecessarily” froze various tribal bank accounts that held “the Senecas and thousands of Western New Yorkers and families hostage for several days.”

At the time, Hochul detailed how she was committed to “resolving this dispute” between the Seneca and the state of New York. She then expressed joy that her administration “finally reached a resolution.”

Most of those payments, the NY governor indicated, would go toward a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. None of this sat well with the tribe, as Pagels said that Hochul “couldn’t contain her excitement to boast about her Seneca ransom money for a new stadium.”

“In one breath,” Pagels said, “New York’s hostile and shameless greed was laid for the world to see.”

‘Clock is ticking’ for new Seneca Nation compact

Obviously the Seneca Nation is eager to get a deal done. Its current gaming compact is due to expire in December 2023.

Despite the already-long delay in a renegotiated agreement, despite the tribe’s skepticism that Hochul can remain impartial in discussions, the Seneca Nation continues to press the administration for an updated compact.

“It’s time to stand with Seneca,” Abrams said. She then added: “The clock is ticking.”

Photo by Yuki Iwamura / AP Photo
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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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