A controversy is brewing in upstate New York because the Seneca Nation of Indians plans a Rochester casino, surprising local leaders. The news about a potential casino came just days after the tribe agreed in principle to a 20-year compact with the state. It seems that part of the negotiations could’ve included a new casino.
Once they learned of the casino, local lawmakers shared their frustration and raised questions. The news broke after the compact bill passed the state Senate and entered the Assembly. The Assembly then decided not to look into the bill, leaving the bill’s and the compact’s future in doubt.
The tribe urged the Assembly to vote on the legislation to authorize the governor’s office to finalize the agreement. Members emphasized the importance of jobs and labor unions without mentioning a Rochester casino. However, the Assembly ignored those calls.
When the Assembly failed to pass the bill, the Seneca Nation pointed the finger at the governor’s office. According to its members, the governor’s office did not involve local leaders. The tribe went further and accused Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul of misconduct. Hochul’s husband works for Delaware North, a company that runs Finger Lakes Gaming, a competitor casino. The governor had previously said she would take no part in the negotiations to avoid a conflict of interest.
Local Leaders: We Must Be Involved in the Rochester Casino
Rochester leaders say they were surprised by the private talks. The negotiations came to light as the state legislature prepared to approve the bill granting the governor’s office the authority to sign off the new compact with the Senecas.
The primary issue for local leaders is that they and the public were not involved. They say that residents should have a say in matters like a casino. Additionally, there is a concern from the gaming union representing 1,000 workers at nearby Del Lago Resort and Casino.
In a news release, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans said that any negotiations of this magnitude without the involvement of local stakeholders are unacceptable.
Local lawmakers like state Assemblyman Harry B. Bronson, D-Rochester, expressed concern and called for transparent discussions and local input. When he tried to reach Hochul’s office, he was informed that they couldn’t discuss the issue due to a non-disclosure agreement. Bronson deemed that highly inappropriate.
He added that the Assembly doesn’t have to do anything until December, giving more questions time to be answered. Bronson also said the governor’s office should re-negotiate the compact.
Gambling Compact Signed Just Days Prior
At the beginning of June, the Seneca Nation and the state of New York announced that they’d agreed in principle to a new 20-year compact. Under the new agreement, Seneca Nation would pay New York 25% of the revenue from slots and video lottery terminals (VLTs). The parties called the new compact “fair” but did not release further details.
Under the current compact, which expires in December, Seneca Nation operates three casinos in the state:
- Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel
- Seneca Allegany Casino
- Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino
The tribe has long eyed Rochester and Monroe County for future expansion, but their efforts have fallen short on multiple occasions.
Seneca Nation, New York and the Rocky Relationship
The announcement of the new 20-year compact surprised many. In 2017, the tribe stopped making payments claiming New York did not follow the current compact, signed in 2002. According to Seneca, the state allowed the expansion of gaming facilities close to the tribe’s area.
Then, New York took Seneca Nation to court. Last year, the state was able to freeze the tribe’s financial assets. That prompted Seneca Nation to end the dispute and agree to pay $566 million to New York.
Upstate Casinos Worry About Gambling Expansion
A Seneca casino in Rochester would add to the concerns of some lawmakers and casinos in upstate New York about gambling expansion in the state. State Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., D-Ozone Park, has been working for a while on legalizing online casinos in New York. While the latest bill failed in March, he will most likely be back with a new bill in the next’s Legislature session.
Some lawmakers’ concerns are that online casinos would cannibalize retail casinos. That could lead to a loss of revenue and jobs.
In 2013, New Yorkers voted to amend the constitution and add seven retail casinos. Four already operate in upstate New York.
Last year, the state decided to issue the remaining three casino licenses in downstate New York. Some upstate New York leaders felt the decision was unfair. Meanwhile, others expressed concern about potential revenue lost to downstate casinos.