IRVING, NY (WKBW) — The leader of the Seneca Nation of Indians continues to cry foul over the state's plans to use casino revenues for a new Buffalo Bills stadium.
7 News Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley sat down with Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels.
“The New York State government chose to inflict Albany’s ill-will against the Seneca Nation and choke us into making a decision which forced our hand to release that payment,” remarked Pagels.
President Pagels invited me to his office on the Seneca Reservation in Irving.
In late March the state had all the Nation’s and Seneca Gaming Corporation bank accounts frozen.
The state made the move after waiting for years for the nation to make casino revenue payments from its Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Salamanca casinos as part of the casino compact agreement.
But Pagels says the state's action nearly shut down vital Seneca Nation services.
“Diabetes medicine, healthcare functions, homeowners assistance, rents — meals service to our elders,” described Pagels.
Nation leaders were forced to vote into releasing $564-million to the state.
But the Seneca leader says the state has violated the terms of the compact agreement over the last two decades.
“The exclusivity that the Seneca Nation has been granted in these 20-years has been since day one — watered down —diminished because of internet gaming, VLT’s — racinos that have adapted to slot machines that maybe aren't Class 3, but are very similar and competitive,” Pagels remarked.
Governor Kathy Hochul announced she was directing the state's share of more than $418-million in casino funds for the construction of a new Bills stadium.
The Governor's office provided a breakdown of casino revenues owed to localities.
A portion of funds to be paid to host communities, these amounts are what is due after accounting for advanced payments from the State:
- City of Buffalo = $34,766,305
- City of Niagara Falls = $38,940,440
- City of Salamanca & Cattaraugus County = $16,360,419
- Non-host county aid is split between 15 counties and that total is $56,484,661.
“There was no transparency in what was being done. She just strong-armed the Seneca Nation into releasing payment for the Bills stadium,” Pagels noted.
The Seneca's launched a television and radio ad campaign across the state criticizing the governor for using the funds to pay for an NFL stadium.
“See it for what it is — misuse of funds and the continued mistreatment of native people,” stated the advertisement announcer.
“Why are you upset with what they use that money for?” Buckley questioned.
“The lion share — that exclusivity isn't the Nation's. It's up to New York State how they spend it, to wake up on a Tuesday morning knowing that that the turmoil that was caused by New York State's government internally,” replied Pagels.
“I think that was a stab in the heart and a true testament to her character to say that —good faith with us is out the window,” declared Marie Williams, Seneca member.
The Seneca's Casino Gaming Compact expires at the end of 2023.
But Williams says she's not in favor of a new compact deal with the state.
“I don't think our compact should be renewed. I think it needs to be new and I think there are a lot of things that need to be settled between the nation and the state before we even sit at the table,” Williams said.
A spokesperson for Governor Hochul's office sent us the following statement:
"Governor Hochul has worked to resolve this issue amicably since the beginning of her administration and receive the funds the State and local governments are owed. The courts have consistently ruled in the State's favor, and the State has negotiated in good faith and met every hurdle. Time and again, the Nation failed to fulfill their court-ordered obligations. After the Nation once again failed to make payments under the terms of an amicable agreement, the State had to take action to enforce the judgment, and we are pleased to have finally secured these long-overdue funds for Western New York communities."
The Seneca president told me that his leadership held casino talks internally on Friday, but they're hoping New York State will begin casino compact negotiations as soon as possible.