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Seneca Nation alleges Hochul kept gaming compact from local officials allowing affiliation with Delaware North to undermine deal

  • / Updated:
  • Josh Durso 

No NDA’s, 11+ months of negotiation behind closed doors, and still local lawmakers were blindsided by deal that would’ve brought new casino to Finger Lakes.

It’s hard to believe that there could be any more uncertainty around the gaming compact involving the Seneca Nation and New York State, but as of this weekend, even more has been introduced.

Last week local leaders in the Rochester area, as well as the Finger Lakes region, blasted the prospect of a Nation-owned casino in Rochester. Part of the state’s proposed compact with the Nation would have meant a new casino being built in downtown Rochester.

While the site itself was not known, many in the city pushed back against the idea of a casino being built there. Away from Monroe County – State Sen. Pam Helming, who represents the 54th District – said a Rochester casino would hurt 1,000+ jobs at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack. She said it would also have a negative impact on del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County.

As the public outcry grew louder – Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the proposed deal would not move forward. “I believe the Seneca Nation deserves a fair deal,” he said on Twitter. “However the sentiment of the Assembly’s Monroe County delegation – is concerning, and we cannot move forward with a vote on the compact at this time.”

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration was criticized for not involving local voices in the debate about what impact the of the gaming compact.

The newest wrinkle came from a scathing statement released by the Seneca Nation. They called the ‘non-committal approach’ ‘despicable’. Moreover, they painted a picture that runs in contrast to what many felt blindsided by.

“The Executive Chamber’s non-committal approach and the Assembly’s decision to place special interests over the benefits of this historic agreement at the eleventh hour is despicable,” the statement from the Senecas began.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

“The Seneca Nation announced an agreement with New York State that we believe represents a fair deal for everyone. The Governor’s negotiating team spent 11 months negotiating the terms of this agreement. The parties arrived at an agreement that we believed was allowable under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, while still benefiting the State and, particularly, local communities,” it continues. “The Nation did so with terms that would still provide the Seneca Nation with fair value for what, even under new terms, would remain one of the highest exclusivity share payments in the country. The State Senate approved the deal overwhelmingly, recognizing the mutual benefits the agreement would provide to the State and the Nation.”

That’s when the statement took a turn.

“Upon hearing that Rochester leaders were frustrated at their lack of understanding of the deal, apparently having been kept in the dark by their Executive (Gov. Hochul), the Nation met with local Rochester leaders to address their concerns,” the statement continued. “The Nation promised to work together to site any future casino in a location that worked for local communities. And yet, the Nation’s attempts to rectify that lack of understanding have fallen short, and the Nation is once again reminded that Native Nations in the State of New York are secondary to corporate interests. By failing to advance this bill, the Assembly is telling the Seneca Nation we don’t even deserve the opportunity to start those conversations.”

While not naming Hochul directly – the Nation held nothing back.

“The blame for keeping Rochester officials out of the loop lays directly at the feet of the Executive,” the statement adds. “The Executive and the Nation agreed not to negotiate through the press or in public, but contrary to media coverage, the parties never entered into a Non-Disclosure Agreement. The Nation regularly consulted our own legislative branch, and expected that the Executive was doing the same. The Executive’s claim that it was legally barred from communicating with other State officials is simply inaccurate. The Executive was free to communicate with local officials throughout the process, on what it was negotiating for and what it agreed to. The failure of the Executive to communicate with its own government speaks to the utter disregard the Governor had for this process.”

The statement also alleges that Hochul, who had reportedly recused herself from the negotiating process due to her husband’s high profile job with Delaware North (who operates Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack), undermined the compact directly by allowing special interests to get involved.

“The powers behind this decision should not be ignored. We were told that Governor Hochul recused herself, and yet, Finger Lakes Gaming, owned by Delaware North, led the charge to defeat the renewal of the Seneca Nation’s compact. Their statement opposing the compact released on Monday is proof positive. Now, the greatest beneficiary of the Nation’s expiring compact is Delaware North itself, as the company also operates Hamburg Gaming near Buffalo. Corporate executives at Delaware North will celebrate this Father’s Day weekend, thankful that the State has once again protected their interests at the expense of a Native Nation,” the Seneca’s statement continued. “The Nation is also disappointed that the Executive has been content to let its own deal die on the vine. Had this been a priority for them, we would have seen statements of support for the bill, communications that the Nation-State compact is a priority, or applying the full weight of the Executive Branch. The Executive has been silent. The Executive Chamber’s choice not to promote its own deal with the Seneca Nation speaks volumes — Governor Hochul may have recused herself from negotiations, but apparently could not recuse her own staff from the expectation that they prioritize corporate interests, Delaware North first and foremost, over those of a sovereign Native Nation.”

It’s unclear what’s next, but a vote on the deal in the Assembly appears unlikely, despite the Seneca’s imploring them to take up the compact.