Cuomo threatens casino competition, while Senecas insist they fulfilled NYS payments

Aug 22, 2017

There are new twists in an ongoing dispute over the Seneca Nation's casino compact with New York State. Governor Cuomo is threatening to bring new competitors into the Buffalo-Niagara area, while the Senecas accuse his administration of leaking word of an investigation into allegations their lawyer says were found without merit.

Governor Cuomo did not speak to reporters following an appearance Tuesday morning in Grand Island. But later that day in Rochester, he addressed the Seneca Nation's halt to payments of casino revenues to New York State. Cuomo insists the Senecas are still obligated to make those payments in exchange for exclusive rights to operate casinos in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

Seneca Nation President Todd Gates reads a statement as councillors listen behind him. To Gates' side is attorney Dennis Vacco.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

He hinted he'd entertain the thought of welcoming bids from other casino operators.

"This is a very valuable commodity," Cuomo said in Rochester. "I have no doubt that we would get companies from around the world to bid on a casino right in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area. I have no doubt about that."

The Seneca Nation, though, insists it has fulfilled its payment obligations and still holds exclusivity rights under the compact. President Todd Gates spoke with news reporters Tuesday on the Cattaraugus Territory and insists it's Albany that has been the frequent violator of the compact.

"He needs to read the compact. It's very clear," Gates said. "Our obligation ended after 14 years. If he wants to put a casino in our exclusivity zone, that's a clear violation again by the state."

The Senecas also responded to reports that the Erie County District Attorney's Office is looking into allegations of eavesdropping by Seneca gaming personnel of New York State gaming officials. Seated next to President Gates, attorney Dennis Vacco said there was an internal investigation earlier this year that determined the accusations were without merit.

He also accuses the Cuomo administration of leaking what he suggests should have been confidential information.

"I'm very disappointed in that disclosure," Vacco said. "There's absolutely no public record or public filing surrounding this investigation. And I think that it's highly inappropriate for the Governor or his staff to have leaked this information about this investigation, to the extent there is an investigation."

Gates said he is angry for his nation, angry by what he called the continued disparaging accusations and actions by Cuomo. He said a continued string of meeting cancellations insults his people.

He was asked about what might happen if Cuomo were to allow competing casinos into Niagara Falls or Buffalo.

"It'll do poorly," he said. "The market is saturated. I think a lot of people know that. Even the new casinos they put out there are not doing up to their expectations."