Seneca Nation Compact Bill Slows in State Assembly Over Rochester Casino Rumors

Posted on: June 12, 2023, 10:04h. 

Last updated on: June 12, 2023, 10:26h.

The Seneca Nation and state officials last week made the surprising announcement that the two sides had reached an agreement in principle for a new 20-year, Class III gaming compact.

Seneca Nation New York gaming compact
Rochester is reportedly being targeted by the Seneca Nation for a casino development. The rumbling has some lawmakers in Albany concerned, as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office seeks to enter into a new 20-year, Class III gaming compact with the federally recognized tribe. (Image: Shutterstock)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) recused herself from the discussions because her husband works in an executive capacity for a company that directly competes against the Seneca gaming properties in upstate New York. The negotiations were instead managed by two Hochul aides who were given the authority to handle the talks on her behalf. However, the final agreement requires Hochul’s signature.

Once the governor and Senecas find common ground, which they say they did last week, the revenue-sharing agreement requires legislative approval from the New York State Assembly. After the state Senate quickly passed a bill authorizing Hochul to sign a new Class III pact with the Senecas, the measure stalled in the Assembly where some lawmakers voiced concerns about rumors that the contract will allow the tribe to open a new casino in Rochester.

The Seneca Nation owns and operates three full-scale casinos with slots and table games, including Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, and Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino. The tribe’s current compact, which was established in 2002 and which is set to expire this December, provides the tribe exclusivity for slots and table games west of State Route 14.

Rochester Rumors

Pursuant to the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), federally recognized tribes can operate Class I and II gaming on sovereign lands. To operate Las Vegas-style gaming like slot machines and table games, tribes must enter into Class III compacts with their host states.

The Senecas and Hochul’s office provided few details last week on the new compact when the agreement in principle was announced. The compact that terminates December 9 prevents the Senecas from opening a fourth full-scale casino with slots and table games, though the tribe is allowed to open additional slots-only facilities so long as the property is on sovereign land.

The tribe has stated publicly in recent years its hopes of opening a casino in Rochester, though it doesn’t currently own land in the city that’s been deemed sovereign territory by the US Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Compact Concerns

Only one state Senator voted against the bill allowing Hochul’s office to sign a new Class III compact. The adversary was Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester) who said he wants to hear about specific details regarding the compact before lending his support.

We’ve had this conversation as a community over the last several years. I just didn’t feel comfortable moving forward or authorizing any sort of agreement without speaking directly with the communities I represent or giving them an opportunity to have public input,” Cooney told WXXI radio.

The bill has since stalled in the Assembly where additional lawmakers representing Rochester voiced concerns.

“This is something that should be seriously discussed in an open and transparent way, and if the rumor is correct that they are considering potentially downtown Rochester or even in the surrounding area of Rochester, local folks should have a say,” Assemblyperson Harry Bronson (D-Rochester) told Politico.

The New York State Assembly ended its 2023 legislative session over the weekend. Hochul is expected to call a special session to authorize the compact later this month.