New York Gov. Says No Deal with Seneca Nation After Rochester Casino Backlash

Posted on: June 26, 2023, 08:05h. 

Last updated on: June 26, 2023, 11:04h.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) has conceded that her office’s tentative agreement with the Seneca Nation over a new Class III gaming compact is no longer on the table.

New York Kathy Hochul Seneca Nation compact
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has been accused of not communicating the details of her office’s proposed Class III gaming compact with the Seneca Nation. After word got out that the tentative agreement included a provision that could allow the tribe to pursue a tribal casino in Rochester, Assembly lawmakers refused to authorize Hochul to sign the deal. (Image: TNS)

Hochul’s administration and the Seneca Nation earlier this month made a surprising announcement that the two sides had reached an updated revenue-sharing agreement for the tribe’s three upstate tribal casinos.

While the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows federally recognized tribes like the Senecas to conduct Class I and II gaming on their sovereign lands — bingo, pull-tabs, and non-house-banked card games like poker — tribes must reach Class III compacts with their home states in order to include Las Vegas-style gaming like slot machines and table games.

On June 7, the Seneca Nation stated that a new, 20-year compact with New York had been tentatively reached. After rumors surfaced that the contract language included possibly allowing the tribe to construct a full-scale casino in Rochester, state and local leaders scolded the governor for not including Lake Ontario-area leaders in those discussions and allowing area residents to weigh in with their thoughts on such a project.

Deal Off

The New York Constitution allows the governor to negotiate new compacts with federally recognized tribes. Hochul claimed to have recused herself from the Seneca talks because her husband, William Hochul, is an executive with a Seneca competitor in Delaware North.

Hochul instead appointed close staff members to handle the tribal gaming discussions. While the governor has the authority to represent the state on Class III compacts, gaming agreements can only be finalized through legislative approval.

After the state Senate passed a bill authorizing Hochul to sign a new tribal casino treaty, the Assembly stalled the measure following the Rochester casino rumblings. Neither Hochul nor the Senecas have provided their tentative agreement for public inspection.

Seneca leaders subsequently reprimanded the governor for not including other state officials, specifically those who represent Rochester, in the state’s side of the compact negotiations. Seneca President Rickey Armstrong Sr. said the governor’s transparency failures demonstrated that Hochul had an “utter disregard” for the process.

After much public backlash, Hochul said through a statement that the State Assembly’s failure to pass a bill authorizing her to sign a new Seneca deal has stalled the process.

“While we have engaged in productive discussions with the Seneca Nation recently, we were unable to reach a final agreement, and the Assembly did not pass the authorizing legislation. We look forward to continuing to work toward an agreement that works for all parties,” Hochul’s release read.

Seneca Statement

The Seneca Nation, which typically prefers to handle its business matters with the state privately, says it has been left no choice but to take its fight public. Tribal leaders said they were willing to further negotiate the contract after hearing the concerns and feedback from Rochester officials and residents.

If the Assembly was willing to take up the legislation, the Nation was willing to make significant concessions from our previous agreement in principle,” Armstrong Sr. said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we were not able to arrive at a revised agreement that met the needs of the Seneca people while also addressing the concerns of the Assembly and the Executive Office.”

The Seneca’s current compact, established in 2002, expires on December 9. The compact requires the tribe to direct 25% of its slot machine revenues to the state.

Hochul’s agreement, in principle, had offered to lower the tribe’s slot tax to 19.5% and potentially allow the Senecas to pursue a casino in Rochester. The tribe argues that a reduced slot tax is warranted, as casinos continue to expand across the Northeast.