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Concerns grow as gaming compact between Seneca Nation and NY state is set to expire

WBFO News File Photo
Seneca Niagara Casino, Niagara Falls, NY.

A 21-year-old agreement between the Seneca Nation and New York state that allows the nation to operate casinos is set to expire next week. There are concerns about what a new gaming compact could mean for non-native gaming facilities in the Finger Lakes and western New York.

The gaming compact authorizes the Seneca Nation to conduct gaming activities with the state in three locations: Niagara and Erie counties and on its reservation in Salamanca. In return, the Seneca Nation pays the state a percentage of its revenue. The compact is registered with the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was implemented in 2002.

Earlier this year, the Seneca Nation and the state met behind closed doors to negotiate lowering the nation’s revenue contributions, while allowing it to build a new casino in the Rochester area.

Details of the negotiations were leaked. Communities and businesses pushed back, which led to the formation of the Fair Compact for All Coalition. It is made up of four non-native gaming operations: del Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County, Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Ontario County, Hamburg Gaming in Erie County and Batavia Downs Gaming in Genesee County.

The coalition called for more transparency in the negotiations between the state and the Seneca Nation.

“We're not against or working on the compact,” said Lance Young, vice president and general manager at del Lago Resort and Casino. “We just want to ensure that the compact is transparent and equitable for the communities and for the businesses and the employees that we represent.”

Young said the coalition represents a group that provides more than 3,500 jobs and $180 million in annual gaming taxes to New York.

The closed-door negotiations between the Seneca Nation and the state included lowering the nation’s tax revenue responsibility from 25% to 19.75%—contingent upon its ability to build the new casino in Rochester, according to Young.

Members of the coalition pay 30% in tax revenue to the state.

Young said any additional gaming operations would undermine community benefits.

“The state controller did a study and has already shown that gaming is oversaturated in the market,” he said. “So, an additional facility would cannibalize the existing markets and jeopardize the jobs and benefit that these properties provide to the local communities.”

The Seneca Nation declined to comment on this story.

In a letter sent to Governor Kathy Hochul, Southern Tier Rep. Nick Langworthy called on Hochul to come to an agreement or extension of the existing compact with the Seneca Nation before the deadline.

“Over a thousand jobs in my district and the Seneca Nation are dependent on this compact, and these employees deserve to know if their jobs are safe or if their gaming licenses are in jeopardy,” said Langworthy. “Whether it’s a new compact or an extension of the current compact, Governor Hochul must provide a timely update.” 

It is not clear what happens if the parties fail to reach an agreement on a new gaming compact before it expires on December 9.