Proposed gaming compact stirs casino debate

Print More
The Seneca nation leadership (Photos: Seneca nation)

A proposed gaming compact for the Seneca nation has fueled a torrent of responses from local lawmakers.

The Seneca nation announced a new arrangement with New York State last week calling it an “agreement in principle.” Though the terms are yet to be finalized and approved, it could add another license for a casino in Monroe County. 

“Negotiating a fair Compact was critical to the future of the Seneca Nation and the future of Western New York,” said Rickey Armstrong Sr. Seneca nation president, at the announcement. “Throughout months of negotiation, our focus remained on arriving at a fair deal that secured the future of our gaming operations, the vital funding our operations provide for critical services for our people, and the significant jobs and economic benefits they generate in Western New York. We made it clear that we would not settle for anything less.”

This announcement came several days before a vote in the state Legislature, however, sparking criticism over a lack of transparency. Specifically, the State Senate voted to give the governor’s office pre-authorization for the power to negotiate terms for the gaming compact which is set to expire in December. The vote was delayed in the State Assembly.

“I have deep respect for the nation. I have visited their territories and been able to connect with their people. I certainly respect the part they play in our country’s history,” says State Senator Jeremy Cooney, who was the only member to vote no. “But from a sense of good government and transparency, I am very concerned about any legislation that does not engage the state and local elected representatives from that community.”

“This shouldn’t be a bait and switch. This needs to be a collaborative agreement for this to be successful,” he continues.

The pre-authorization was part of a number of bills which passed through an expedited “Messages of Necessity” process, a procedure typically seen at the end of a legislative session. It was not subject to a full committee process but instead went through the rules committee and then to the floor for a vote over the weekend.

Cooney says this type of agreement does not typically garner much scrutiny among individual lawmakers. A news reportthe Seneca nation’s Twitter account, and representing an area previously discussed as a potential casino site made Cooney more aware of this possibility, he says.

Other lawmakers, including fellow State Senator Samra Brouk, echo Cooney’s concerns.

“I have heard from constituents over the last two days, concerned that a casino is not what our community needs, and that too little is known about this proposal for it to move forward,” Brouk says. “Decisions like this cannot be made lightly, and the members of our community who have the most to lose from a proposal like this deserve to have their voices heard.”

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello have weighed in as well.

“It’s deeply troubling that this community has now been placed in this position of debating an issue without knowing the full details of what has been negotiated,” says Bello. “A matter as significant as the placement of a casino in Rochester should be discussed out in the open, in conversations that include members of our state Delegation and local officials.”

A letter, expressing frustration and confusion with the development and signed by all members of the Rochester City Council, was sent Monday to Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“Our understanding of this proposed project is unclear, since the only information we have is through the media,” the letter reads. “One thing that seems clear, though, is that this proposed casino would not require any local input, consultation or consent. We hope that the signatures of every member of the Common Council of the City of Rochester makes very clear that we are opposed to this project as we currently understand it.”

The letter also notes that previous attempts by the Seneca nation to build a casino in Rochester were polarizing and garnered significant opposition.

Seneca Resorts and Casino properties.

In 2016, the Seneca nation ultimately passed on bidding for Parcel 5 after initially expressing interest in the land. Currently, the nation owns and operates three “class III gaming” casinos in Niagara Falls, downtown Buffalo, and Salamanca, New York..

All of those locations are part of a 2002 gaming compact agreement under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The nation agreed to pay a portion of its revenues on slot machines and other gaming devices to the state in exchange for the exclusive right to offer those machines west of State Route 14.

Since that agreement, the nation says its projects have invested nearly $2 billion for building, development and operations. The Senecas are responsible for more than 5,000 direct jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $1.1 billion on the Western New York economy, the nation notes.

On the other hand, a five-year legal battle over paying casino revenue to the state only ended last year when the Seneca nation agreed to pay the state $556 million.

Hochul has recused herself from negotiations because of her husband’s executive position at Delaware North, a Buffalo-based hospitality company. 

County Legislator Rachel Barnhart yesterday said she would submit a “memorializing resolution” against a casino in Monroe County on Tuesday. 

“The evidence is clear: casinos do not create new wealth, employment or tourism. Rather, a casino would cannibalize existing dollars spent in our community. Casinos have a long track record in other communities of hurting retail sales, serving as a drain on the local economy,” the resolution reads. 

Further, Barnhart notes that young adults with lower incomes and Black and Brown communities face a greater risk of problem gambling. She also proposes an independent study of a casino’s potential impact in the area.

If the Seneca Nation was to construct a casino in Rochester, it would need to buy property and gain federal approval to make it sovereign land.

Other casinos close to the Rochester area include Batavia Downs, operated by Western Regional Off-Track Betting, and Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, operated by Delaware North.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

2 thoughts on “Proposed gaming compact stirs casino debate

  1. This development is very disturbing for all the reasons cited in this piece. They are the same reasons I opposed this idea when it was previously raised and I remain opposed now. Despite my strong support for the Seneca Nation in general, I do not support this gaming aspect of their economic initiatives. We need plans that will bring the community closer together; this plan will not do that as so many of us in this community know. But who asked us??!!

  2. Ever spend some time in the Niagara Falls area. A massive casino building complex and right across the street a housing mess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *