CATTARAUGUS RESERVATION, N.Y. (WKBW) For two years, the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York State have been in a dispute regarding payments from casino operations.
The Seneca Nation argues that New York State violated a 2002 compact giving the Seneca's exclusive gaming rights in the western end of the state, when they allowed slot machines to be operated at racetrack casinos.
The matter is scheduled to go before an arbitrator, and roughly $400-million dollars has been placed in escrow.
Those funds were supposed to be allocated to host communities (Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Salamanca) and the delay has caused severe budget problems in Niagara Falls and Salamanca.
Last week, Mayor Paul Dyster was so frustrated by the situation that he publicly commented that the City might consider withholding fire service for the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel.
Those comments generated an angry response from the Senecas who claim New York State is responsible for the lack of payments.
The following are comments posted online by Mayor Paul Dyster:
"At this point in time, I feel as though my responsibility to lead here in Niagara Falls means that I have to defend my public safety services under some very difficult circumstances that we now face. Everyone knows that the City of Niagara Falls is undergoing some major financial hardship as a result of the failure of the Seneca Nation of Indians to deliver revenues to the State of New York, which means the State of New York has no revenues to deliver to us. It's somewhere, I suppose, around $60 million that we're now owed. And if you are wondering how we spent casino revenues when we had them to spend, look right in front of you at the new equipment that we have been able to purchase for the Niagara Falls Fire Department with those revenues. How ironic it is here on the anniversary of 9/11, when we are talking about the gallant efforts of NYC firefighters to rescue people from a high-rise office building in downtown Manhattan, that the entity that creates perhaps the greatest firefighting challenge for the City of Niagara Falls is not paying their fair share of our public safety services.
I know it's a difficult thing to have to discuss on the anniversary of 9/11, but it's a cold hard reality that I have to face as Mayor, and I'm rapidly reaching the point where I might have to talk to my Fire Chief about whether I would ask my firefighters to respond to a contingency in that high-rise hotel at a time when the Senecas are not keeping up their part of the social compact. How could I lay off firefighters, and then ask them to respond to a fire at the Seneca Hotel without having taken some sort of dramatic step somewhere along the line to make sure that the casino pays its' fair share. As I say, these are difficult issues to try to discuss on the anniversary of 9/11, but I felt that it was something that absolutely needed to be said. There is a social compact that exists here, there are certain unwritten rules leave aside the legal agreements that underpin our society. "
Seneca Nation of Indians President Robert Odawi Porter replied to the mayor's comments with following letter:
"I would like to believe that Mayor Dyster is a responsible, reasonable leader and would not allow hundreds of casino employees, tourists, diners or national performers to be at risk in Niagara Falls in our property. To suggest that fire protection would not be called in the event of a fire emergency is likely more of a grossly misguided public relations statement to place pressure on this sorely disputed situation. One, which we must reiterate, the state of New York could fix by paying the host cities the money they are owed for services to gaming while arbitration to settle the disagreement over the state's violation of our mutual gaming compact. Niagara Falls has struggled for decades to try to gain an economic foothold. Seneca Gaming Corp. has helped draw tourism to the American side. It would be a terrible shame if this kind of statement, sadly delivered on a day of national mourning, deterred people from coming to the Falls altogether. I hope that the Mayor will rethink such an ill-considered approach to public safety."