The dispute between New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians about casino revenue payments is heating up with a war of words. The Seneca Nation says payments were only due for 14 years under its exclusivity compact with NYS, and they accuse Governor Andrew Cuomo of cancelling meetings with Seneca Nation President Todd Gates to talk about the issue.
Media reports say the Cuomo Administration is now threatening to open a “non-Indian gambling hall” near the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls if the payments don’t resume.
Governor Cuomo did not take questions on the issue when he was on Grand Island today.
Mayor Paul Dyster issued the following statement on the situation:
"Anyone who has followed this issue and the hard line taken by the Seneca Nation knows that there was the possibility that the state would take this position. We know that the Governor has the best interests of Niagara Falls and its residents at heart, and we remain confident that when this matter is resolved that those interests will be taken care of. We remain hopeful that a negotiated settlement can be reached and remember that sometimes the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”
During an afternoon press conference, Seneca Nation President Todd Gates responded to the reports and explained that his office has tried to coordinate meetings with Governor Cuomo on several occasions. President Gates said Cuomo’s office cancelled the meetings claiming there is an on-going investigation into a legal matter that involved accusations of a listening device being planted in casino space leased from the Seneca’s for the NYS Gaming Commission.
Former NYS Attorney General Dennis Vacco was retained by the Nation to handle the matter and he also spoke with the media. Vacco said his office’s investigation found no indication of criminal wrongdoing and Vacco blamed the Governor’s office for leaking news about the investigation as a way to divert attention from the revenue payment issue.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that it is investigating allegations that employees of the NYS Gaming Commission were eavesdropped on by the Seneca Gaming Authority at the Buffalo Creek Casino in 2016.
Seneca Nation President Todd Gates said if NYS goes ahead with plans to open a non-indian gambling facility in Niagara Falls, it will be a clear violation of the compact which is enforceable through federal laws. Gates said he is still willing to talk about the revenue issue but is prepared to take whatever legal steps are necessary to protect the Nation’s rights under the compact.
Seneca Nation President Todd Gates read this statement during the press conference:
"Five months ago, almost to the day, we sat in this room with members of the media to discuss the completion of the Seneca Nation’s 14-year payment obligation under the Compact.
That same morning, Governor Cuomo asked me directly in a telephone conversation if I would be willing to meet with him to discuss this situation. I said yes.
I have repeated that willingness for five months. Five months have gone by with no meeting. We had a meeting scheduled for late July. That meeting was cancelled by the Governor on short notice.
We thought we were heading toward a meeting for August 8. That date was ultimately pulled off the table by the Governor.
We had a meeting scheduled for today – to the point that my staff walked through the meeting location with his security detail. Again, the Governor cancelled, using the crutch of allegations unrelated to the Compact issue.
Through all the insults, the cancelled meetings, the threats and the smoke and mirrors, the facts remain perfectly clear:
The Compact spells out a 14-year payment obligation for the Nation. That obligation has been fulfilled and has now ended.
The Compact is still in effect and the Nation’s exclusive rights remain. The Compact is enforceable by Federal law.
The Seneca Nation remains in compliance with the language of the Compact."
You can hear more in Ed Reilly’s reports.