The ongoing negotiations between New York and the Seneca Nation regarding their gaming compact has taken several new turns this week.
The current compact, that governs the affairs of the Nation’s three New York State casinos, is set to expire in December this year. Negotiations over a planned 20-year extension have been fraught with tension.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) could be set to return to the negotiating table after her husband, Bill Hochul, left his position at New York-based casino operator Delaware North.
Previously, Governor Hochul recused herself from discussions on the compact because of her husband’s competing interest.
However, her aides apparently negotiated a backroom deal that involved a license for the Seneca’s planned casino in Rochester, New York, which was widely opposed by locals when it leaked.
By July, the controversy ended up doing in that version of the compact agreement. However, now that the Rochester casino idea is off the table and the Governor is back on negotiations, a much-needed deal is in the works again.
Background of the Dispute
This latest round of discussions between the Seneca Nation and New York State is not the first time the two have butted heads over the operation of the three casinos in Western New York.
Hochul inherited a long-standing dispute when she took over the Governor’s office from Andrew Cuomo.
The Seneca Nation was withholding more than $600 million in payments to the state, arguing that their obligation to share slot revenue had ended in 2016. Hochul took a hard-line stance on the issue when she took office in 2021, and gained Federal approval to freeze the Seneca’s banking assets until they paid up. They did, in 2022. But things have remained frosty between the two parties since.
The two major sticking points in the updated gaming compact negotiations has been the proposed casino in Rochester, and the potential conflict of interest over Hochul’s husband’s position at a competing casino operator.
The Rochester venue was always going to be a tough sell. But the manner of its backroom discussion and leaked announcement proved fatal for the idea.
“How dare someone think they can do something in the city of Rochester and not contact the mayor,” Rochester Mayor Malik Evans (D) said in June.
Now that Bill Hochul has announced his departure from Delaware North, and the Rochester idea has been shelved, discussions can return to other issues. For example, the proposed deal that was dropped in June included a 5% tax cut on slot machine revenue.
Whatever her stance, Hochul will be walking into a contentious debate, with Seneca nation officials not holding back.
“Reaching a fair and equitable Compact agreement remains our priority, and should be the State’s priority as well,” said the Seneca Nation in a statement provided to WGRZ.
“The Seneca people and our neighbors in Western New York deserve better. We were and are willing to negotiate a path forward. Our current Compact expires in less than 120 days. That is enough time to get a deal done, but only if the Nation has a reasonable partner at the table with us.”
Hochul’s office meanwhile was slightly more businesslike.
“Administration staff is working with the Seneca Nation of Indians to make sure we have an agreement that is fair, serves the interests of all parties, and addresses the needs of key stakeholders and we look forward to continuing to work toward an agreement,” a statement said.