New York Gov. Cuomo Holds Highway Repair Hostage in Seneca Nation Casino Revenue Dispute

Posted on: August 22, 2019, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: September 24, 2019, 07:12h.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) says the state won’t touch a three-mile stretch of I-90 that travels through Seneca Nation land due to the ongoing casino revenue-sharing dispute with the tribe.

New York Thruway Seneca Nation casino
It’s been a rocky road between the State of New York and the Seneca Nation. (Image: Mark Mulville/Buffalo News/Ernie News Now/

The Seneca Nation of Indians stopped sharing 25 percent of their slot winnings in March of 2017. The tribe argued their compact with the state expired a year earlier, and while the Class III gaming agreement legally rolled over for another 14-year period, the Native American group said there was no stipulation that gross gaming revenue (GGR) sharing payments would continue in the extension.

A three-member arbitration panel ruled in April that the tribe remains legally responsible to hand over a quarter of its slot win to the state. The outstanding balance was set at $255 million, but the tribe is appealing the decision in federal court.

The Seneca tribe owns and operates full-scale Class III casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo Creek, and Salamanca. The tribe additionally has small Class I and II bingo facilities on its three sovereign territories in Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Oil Spring.

Highway Robbery

Cuomo is fed up with the Seneca Nation, as the state has been forced to issue payments to cash-strapped local communities that heavily rely on their own cut of the tribal slot win. Last fall, the City of Niagara Falls received a $12.3 million financial relief package from Albany.

The three-mile stretch of I-90 intersects Cattaraugus. The highway is in such bad shape there that speeds have been reduced to 45 mph. Once the Thruway exits the Indian territory, the speed limit resumes to 65 mph.

Asked this week about the road repair delay, the governor –now in his third term — said such construction could threaten the tribe’s $255 million (and counting) payment he one day expects to receive.

I don’t want to give them a reason to say New York breached the agreement by coming onto I-90 when they had no right to come onto I-90. That could actually jeopardize our position on the revenues,” Cuomo opined.

“We’re in the courts with them. When we settle the larger issue on the revenues, I believe the I-90 issue will be resolved,” the governor concluded.

Tribe Calls Bluff

Seneca Nation leaders were quick to respond to Cuomo’s position on I-90.

“The only reason that the state repeatedly turns a blind eye to its obligation to repair the deteriorating condition of the portion of the Thruway crossing our Cattaraugus Territory is pure, simple political retribution,” Seneca President Rickey Armstrong said in a release. “He’s playing politics with the safety of the traveling public.”

In April 2018, the Seneca sued the state on grounds that the three-mile Thruway stretch in question was built illegally on its land, and the tribe should be compensated for its use. A large sign along the highway tells travelers that the tribe is owed more than $675 million in tolls.

A federal judge dismissed that case in December.