The Seneca Nation has announced an end to its revenue sharing with the state concerning its three Western New York casinos.
The Senecas cited a nearly 800 page compact it entered into with the state back in 2002, saying the compact only required them to share revenue for the first 14 years of the deal. That means payments were only necessary through 2016, according to the Senecas.
Seneca Nation president Todd Gates said in a statement that the Senecas will continue to follow the terms of the agreement until it expires in 2023. The agreement automatically renewed for another 7 years in December 2016 because neither party objected to any provision.
"Although the revenue share has ended, we remain committed to being good neighbors in the communities where we have gaming facilities and we look forward to working directly with them to continue the economic progress of Western New York," Gates said.
The Seneca Nation operates casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Salamanca.
After a morning press conference with President Gates, several Senecas in the audience applauded. According to John Kane, a national commentator on Native Issues and freelance writer for Native publications, the payments had become a sore spot for most Senecas because of the way New York State dealt with the Seneca Nation.
Most upsetting was the expansion of racetrack casinos in the Finger Lakes, Batavia and Hamburg. Under the terms of the 2002 Gaming Compact, Seneca Casinos were supposed to have exclusivity in the western part of the state.
Another contentious point was that Seneca Casinos were not cross-promoted in NYS tourism efforts. That combined with taxation issues over the past 14 years left many Senecas upset, explained John Kane.
"We went to the governor's budget proposal that he paraded around the state, and I saw no mention of the contributions that Senecas have made to Western New York as disheartening," added President Gates.
The Senecas say that during the the 14 years they were required to make casino revenue payments, $1.4 billion was paid out to NYS - which in turn returned millions to the host communities of Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca.
Some facts concerning the Seneca casinos:
· 4,000 employees at Nation’s three casinos
· Casino payroll of more than $110 million annually
· Nation has invested more than $1 Billion in its three facilities since 2002
· Approx. 7,000 construction jobs created by the Nation’s various casino construction projects
· Casinos have generated more than $1.4 Billion in revenue for State and local governments since 2002
· Buffalo expansion ($40 million) nearly complete will add another 300 jobs downtown
President Gates emphasized that the Seneca Nation has a strong relationship with the host communities that he hopes to continue. Gates said he is open to talking about future payments and reached out to Governor Cuomo who expressed a willingness to discuss the issue.
Salamanca Mayor Mike Smith said he is hopeful the situation can be worked out between the Senecas and NYS.
Buffalo is still reviewing the situation.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster issued the following statement:
“It has been and continues to be our understanding that the payment structure put into place under the compact and 2013 MOU is to be continued. The City of Niagara Falls has received assurances from the State of New York that any assertions to the contrary are categorically incorrect. My administration is prepared to assist in brokering any dialogue necessary and looks forward to working with all parties to reach a solution. We will withhold making any further comment at this time.”
7 Eyewitness New Reporter Ed Reilly has more in his reports.