BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A dispute between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians over casino revenue sharing seems to be erupting into a war of words.
Now the Cuomo administration is hinting that the state will entertain the possibility of locating a new casino in Niagara Falls — if the slot machine payments don’t resume.
“They’re not paying so in the state’s opinion they’re not fulfilling the compact and their right to exclusive gaming is gone,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo during an appearance Tuesday in Rochester.
“I have no doubt that we would get companies from around the world to bid on casino rights in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area. I have no doubt about that.”
Cuomo says there’s the potential for more jobs with a different operator.
The Seneca Nation maintains that it’s just following the terms of the gaming compact with the state, and that they’re no longer required to pay the state a portion of slot machine revenue.
“The compact is still in effect. And the nation’s exclusivity remains. The compact is enforceable by federal law,” said Seneca Nation president Todd Gates.
According to the Seneca Nation, the gaming compact spells out a 14-year payment obligation that has been fulfilled.
Those payments add up to more than a $100 million a year to the state.
Municipalities like Buffalo and Niagara Falls share in the proceeds.
“While we never want to lose any revenue, we have built in contingencies to be able to adjust to any potential revenue losses that are unforeseen,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron brown.
Others think the state gaming compact has a mechanism to deal with these sorts of disputes.
“Let’s get that process moving. That’s the fastest way at this point to resolve this dispute because at the end of the day all of the tough talk and the threats isn’t going to resolve anything,” said State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda.
Ortt isn’t alone in advocating for arbitration to settle things.
“I urge both parties to proceed according to what their legal remedies are and not speculate. Speculation hurts any process,” said Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls.
The governor was scheduled to meet with the Seneca Nation Tuesday but talks were canceled after reports surfaced that the Erie County District Attorney’s office is investigating allegations of “eavesdropping” on employees of the State Gaming Commission.
The state agency leases from the Senecas at the nation’s Buffalo casino.
“My office believes it would be inappropriate for me to meet with them at this time,” Cuomo said.
“Let the Erie County District Attorney finish his investigation. We’ll see where it turns out,” Cuomo added.
Seneca Nation attorney Dennis Vacco pushed back today, saying word of the investigation “leaked” from the governor’s office.
“Unfortunately, the inquiry is being used as a negotiation tactic against the Seneca Nation,” stated Vacco.
“It’s being used as a weak and unfortunate shield from getting down and doing the tough work of negotiating with the Seneca Nation,” he said.
Vacco says an internal investigation was conducted, and that the allegations were found to be “without merit.”