Upstate New York Casino and Gaming Venues Align to Fight for Fair Seneca Compact
Posted on: October 11, 2023, 09:34h.
Last updated on: October 11, 2023, 09:50h.
A newly formed political coalition consisting of an upstate New York casino and three video lottery racetrack venues says it will lobby state lawmakers in Albany and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) administration. They seek a fair and even playing field in the state’s ongoing gaming compact discussions with the Seneca Nation.
Hochul and her staff are negotiating new Class III gaming compact terms with Seneca officials. The Seneca’s gaming compact, which gives the tribe the exclusive rights to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games west of State Route 14, expires December 9.
The governor’s office and tribe continue to iron out their differences, as the tribe seeks a lower tax rate than the 25% toll its current compact levies on its gross slot win. The tribe is also pursuing a new casino, possibly one located in or near Rochester.
Backroom compact negotiations earlier this year sparked much criticism from local leaders in Rochester and state lawmakers who represent the region. Those elected officials said they should have been included in the state’s tribal discussions if a casino was being considered for the city on the Lake Ontario waterfront.
The controversy ultimately killed the compact that Hochul’s office and Seneca leaders tentatively agreed to in early June. The failed compact reportedly would have reduced the tribes’ slot tax from 25% to 19.5%, and would have allowed the Senecas to open a fourth casino in Rochester.
The Seneca Nation’s casinos are Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino, and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. The tribe additionally operates game rooms and/or bingo halls in Irving, Salamanca, and Oil Spring.
Commercial Interests Stress Their Importance
New York in 2011 legalized commercial casinos, with four properties in the upstate region. Those casinos are del Lago Resort & Casino, Tioga Downs Casino Resort, Rivers Casino & Resort, and Resorts World Catskills.
Del Lago is the most western of the four, and is the casino leading a newly formed coalition called “Fair Compact for All.” The commercial casino is joined in the political campaign by three video lottery terminal locations — Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, Hamburg Gaming, and Batavia Downs Gaming.
In a statement issued to Casino.org, the political group says it “will fight for transparency, equity, and financial certainty for all” as the state negotiates new terms with the Senecas.
The four gaming properties, the “Fair Compact for All” release said, generate close to $180 million a year in state gaming taxes.
That is far more than the annual gaming taxes paid to the State by the Seneca Nation under its existing compact. Meanwhile, many of the Western New York communities where Seneca gaming operations are located have seen their populations and property tax bases steadily shrink,” the coalition wrote.
The commercial endeavors also highlighted that they employ more than 3,500 New Yorkers, the majority of whom are union workers. The coalition pointed out that the Seneca casinos are not unionized.
The Seneca Nation issued Casino.org a statement in response to the “Fair Compact for All” demands.
The Seneca Nation’s gaming Compact is a key element in the economic future of Western New York. Our Nation and our three casino properties account for thousands of local jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in local wages, and more than $1 billion in annual economic impact to the region,” the Seneca statement read.
“Competing gaming interests now want to insert themselves and their anti-Seneca sentiment into government-to-government negotiations between the Seneca Nation and New York State. In reality, the changes to the New York gaming market, and their continued impact on the promises made to the Seneca Nation under our Compact, are central to our discussions with New York State. Although it has been nearly 60 days since our last negotiation meeting, we look forward to the State re-engaging in discussions soon, and hold optimism that important progress can be made. A Compact agreement that preserves our operations and protects the economic future of Western New York is critically important. Thousands of local workers and their families, along with businesses that employ thousands more people across Western New York and throughout New York, are depending on this issue,” the statement concluded.
Protecting Home Turf
A major focus for “Fair Compact for All” is to prevent a fourth Seneca casino from opening. The group’s members argue that the upstate and Western New York regions are already oversaturated with gaming, and allowing the tribe to open another casino would further harm their operations.
We cannot and will not tolerate any middle-of-the-night deals that lack transparency, public input, and data-driven economic analysis,” said Chris Riegle, president and general manager of Finger Lakes Gaming. “We welcome competition, but we can’t compete without a level playing field. We look forward to working with our coalition members, local elected officials, and representatives in Albany to secure a truly fair compact for all.”
Along with the four gaming properties, “Fair Compact for All” includes the Rochester Regional Joint Board, a unit of the Workers United labor union.
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