New York Gov. Kathy Hochul can partake in negotiations with the Seneca Nation on a new gambling compact after recusals put in place in 2021 became unwarranted when her husband retired from Delaware North.
In a statement post on Aug. 30, Hochul said her recusal memo was updated to reflect that financial conflict of interest is no longer a concern.
Staff, she indicated, 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.
With Hochul’s participation expected to resume, the Seneca Nation’s president, Rickey Armstrong Sr., said he would welcome communication with the governor.
Armstrong opened the door to discussions in a statement on Aug. 31 following reports of Hichul’s anticipated reinvolvement.
I have not had any direct communication or meeting with Gov. Hochul since I came into office in November. If she is now willing to meet with Seneca Nation leadership, I would welcome the opportunity.
Recusals Intended to Avoid Conflict of Interest
Initially, Hochul had recused herself from compact talks over her husband’s work with the Buffalo-based global hospitality and gaming giant. Delaware North is a direct gaming competitor of the Seneca Nation.
However, First Gentleman William Hochul retired as SVP and general counsel on Aug. 15.
Now, the recusals that barred Hochul from using her position to benefit Delaware North are null and void.
The governor’s website published a recusal memorandum on Mr. Hochul’s last day with Delaware North.
The memo details the initial reasons for the recusals:
The purpose of the Recusals was to avoid a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest pursuant to Sections 73 and 74 of the Public Officers Law. However, in light of changes in circumstances, new guidance must be provided.
And why they’re no longer in effect:
In light of the complete termination of any financial ties between Mr. Hochul and Delaware North, and the lack of any “direct or indirect financial interest” between yourself or the First Gentleman and the company, the August 23, 2021, and October 27, 2021, Recusals are rescinded and are no longer in effect.
A spokesperson for the governor added:
On August 15, Governor Hochul’s recusal memo was updated to reflect that she does not have a direct or indirect financial interest that could lead to a conflict of interest. The governor is no longer recused from negotiations with the Seneca Nation.
However, the spokesperson added that no meeting is currently on the docket for the governor and Seneca Nation leaders.
Effectiveness of Recusals Questioned
Despite the recusals, William Hochul’s Delaware North connection has been a source of criticism from opposition who question their effectiveness.
There’s no evidence Hochul misused her influence. But, as the New York Times reported, her government took a hardline against the Seneca, freezing bank accounts to force payments of $564 million in disputed gambling revenue.
Notably, $418 million of that money went toward financing for a new Buffalo Bills stadium.
At the time, critics questioned whether it was appropriate to subsidize the billionaire owners of a football team. Some were likewise scrutinizing the Bills’ relationship with Delaware North, which has provided the team’s concessions for more than three decades. However, the team has since chosen Legends Hospitality to take over as its concessionaire in 2026.
Senecas Seek “Fair and Reasonable” Compact
According to Armstrong, the Senecas have been trying to “negotiate a fair and reasonable” Class III gaming compact with the state’s negotiators.
In June, the two sides announced they’d reached a preliminary compact agreement.
However, one of the provisions—a new Seneca-owned casino in Monroe County— drew outcry from Rochester lawmakers. As a result, the reaction put a hold on the tentative agreement.
A new Seneca compact is critical to the Western New York economy and to the thousands of people we employ.
After today, we have approximately 100 days until our gaming compact expires. I am hopeful that direct dialogue with Gov. Hochul could help move our discussions toward a successful conclusion that protects the substantial jobs and economic benefits the Seneca Nation has delivered to Western New York for the past two decades.
Over the coming weeks, the state and the Seneca must attempt to reach a new agreement. Details in question include the percentage of the revenue share with the state.
However, the context has changed since 2002, when the parties signed the first compact.
Now, New York owns multiple casinos, including two the Senecas believe encroach on their territory in Western New York.
As recently as an Aug.11 video posted online, Armstrong said talks are not going well.
Frankly, for New York’s negotiators to propose such outrageous terms, especially this far into the negotiation process, is absurd and an insult to the Seneca Nation.
The current gaming compact expires on Dec. 9.