New York lawmakers returned to Albany earlier this week to consider legislation they couldn’t pass before the 2023 session ended earlier this month. However, they left again without passing a bill allowing Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration to enter a new gaming compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians.
The main hold-up at this point appears to be a possible new casino for the sovereign nation in the Rochester area. The tribe currently operates three Class III facilities in western New York.
The current compact, which took effect in 2002, expires on Dec. 9., and the U.S. Department of the Interior must review a new agreement. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the department has 45 days to review and either approve or reject a proposed compact.
Hochul has excused herself from the direct talks because her husband is an executive with Delaware North, a Buffalo-based hospitality company that owns Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, a racino located about 20 miles southeast of Rochester.
In a statement issued Thursday, Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr., said an extension of the existing compact “is neither a reasonable nor acceptable solution” for the tribe, which was embroiled in a lengthy court dispute over payments to New York for the final seven years of the agreement.
Betting at a retail New York casino is legal, but there are no New York online casinos.
Fourth Seneca Casino Could Hurt State Venues
In an interview with NYCasinos.com Thursday, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said he has some concerns about a fourth Seneca casino.
“I don’t think it’s a good deal because it’ll take away revenue that we’re receiving now for education from the racinos,” said Pretlow, the Mount Vernon Democrat who chairs the Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering. “Batavia Downs, Finger Lakes, they have racinos, and four cents of every dollar that’s wagered at those racinos goes to education.”
Proceeds from the video lottery terminals at those racinos also help subsidize purses and incentives to breeders. Pretlow said that when a state-licensed casino is built in the same region as a racino, the racino is held harmless, meaning a portion of the casino’s revenue is given to the track to make up for any losses incurred. With a tribal casino, though, that can’t happen.
Pretlow also thinks a Seneca casino in Rochester could hurt del Lago Resort and Casino. The full-fledged casino, which includes live dealer table games unavailable at racinos, is 40 miles from Rochester in Waterloo. The nearest Seneca Class III casino to Rochester is in Buffalo, more than 65 miles away.
“I’ve always said there’s no such thing as a destination casino,” Pretlow said. “They’re all casinos of convenience. So, if someone right now is 30 miles from del Lago but 60 miles from a Seneca casino in Buffalo, they’re going to go to del Lago. But if you put something in Rochester, then they’re not going to go to del Lago.”
Given the amount of time that the federal government would need to review the compact, plus some time state and Seneca leaders might need if more amendments are required, Pretlow said the timeframe for the legislature to approve a measure allowing the new compact to go to Washington could run until early October.
Senecas Willing to Make ‘Significant Concessions’
Armstrong said tribal leaders engaged with state negotiators in recent days in hopes of coming to a deal with which all parties could agree. However, he said that despite the Senecas offering “to make significant concessions” from the previously agreed-to deal, lawmakers were still not willing to take up the measure.
“It is disappointing that this important work was not completed before the legislature adjourned,” Armstrong said. “However, Assembly leadership has indicated a willingness to return to Albany once the Nation and the state are able to finalize fair terms for a new compact. That remains our goal.”
After the court case was resolved and New York received more than a half-billion dollars from the tribal casinos, Seneca leaders said they would seek fairness in a new gaming compact. Armstrong said Thursday that a new agreement is essential for western New York as the three casinos are major economic drivers and job creators in the region.
“We now intend to work until we have final terms that reflect the realities of today’s gaming market, meet the requirements of federal law, and adequately and appropriately defend our economy, our sovereign rights, and our economic future, as well as the substantial economic benefits we have delivered to Western New York over the past two decades,” he said.
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