Facing a new threat to its casino and gaming operations from state legislation being considered in Albany, the president of the Seneca Nation of Indians said any such movement by lawmakers would simultaneously violate its existing compact and put at risk the thousands of jobs and investment that has been made in the past decade.
Robert Odawi Porter, Seneca Nation president, speaking Tuesday to a state Senate committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, warned that efforts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to open New York to non-Indian casino operators or allow full casinos at horse racing tracks would be detrimental to both relationships between Indian nations and New York and possibly create economic havoc at a time when the state is facing perilous financial times.
The 2002 compact signed between New York state and the Seneca Nation of Indians - one that cleared the way for the development of casinos in Salamanca, Niagara Falls and Buffalo - prohibited the state from allowing non-Indian operated gaming venues outside of sovereign territory.
"The Seneca people have lived up to our promises as expressed in the 2002 agreement - we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into getting up and running within a specific time frame," Porter said in his testimony. "New York state, on the other hand, was not required to spend a single nickel as part of the agreement. Are we now faced with New York state breaking its side of that promise?"
The Seneca Nation, through gaming and other business ventures, generates more than $1 billion annually in salaries and spin-off economic impact. The nation employs more than 6,000 people and is the region's fifth-largest employer.
Seneca Gaming Corp., the casino operation arm of the Seneca Nation, has 3,600 employees that collectively earned last year $95.4 million. Seneca Gaming also paid $30 million in taxes, insurance and benefits.
Seneca Gaming, in addition, has invested more than $900 million in construction projects in the past decade and have plans for additional investments in Salamanca and downtown Buffalo in the coming months.
That's why, Porter said, they will investigate every avenue to prevent New York from bringing non-Indian run casinos to the state.
"We will do everything that we can to fight the erosion of our treaty rights and to protect the Seneca economy," Porter said.
Under the terms of the compact, the Senecas paid $475.2 million to New York and local municipalities for its exclusivity. Another $310 million is being held in escrow over disputes concerning reimbursements sought by the New York State Police and New York allowing, in 2008, a slot machine-like game, Moxie Mania, into taverns with the Seneca exclusivity zone and the development of "racinos" in Hamburg, Batavia and Finger Lakes.
"In 2002, we were promised slot machine exclusivity and we used that exclusivity to invest $1 billion in Western New York," Porter said.
Now, various state legislation is threatening that exclusivity, Porter charged.
"Our record is clear," Porter said. "When Seneca treaties, agreements and sovereignty are respected, all will benefit," he said.