ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo strongly suggested Thursday that no new casino will be located in Western New York, even as he tries to add three new gambling halls upstate.
When asked several times to clarify his position on casino expansion, Cuomo said the state would “honor legal agreements that are in good standing.”
The Seneca Nation of Indians and the state in 2002 signed a casino compact that prohibits any new casinos in a large area of Western New York west of Route 14, a north-south road that runs from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border.
Would he oppose any new casinos in Western New York as part of his gambling expansion package?
“We’re not going to violate any contracts that are in good standing, so you’d have to look at the contract,” Cuomo responded. “If it says there’s an exclusivity geographically, then we’re not going to violate any contract that’s in good standing.”
So he would oppose one in Western New York?
“If there is a contractual agreement that is binding, then we wouldn’t,” he responded.
Is there one binding?
“It depends on where geographically. Some parts of upstate are under contract, some places aren’t,” he said.
The Seneca Nation, though, says the state has violated the 2002 compact by allowing new forms of casino-like gambling at racetracks in the exclusivity zone, including Hamburg and Batavia.
It is unclear whether the 2002 compact would be null and void should the current dispute between the state and the Seneca Nation end without a resolution and one party declares that agreement to be over.
Also, there is nothing in the 2002 compact that would prevent the Senecas, theoretically, of partnering with a private company to build a new casino in the exclusivity zone if that plan meets the standards Cuomo is seeking to establish additional gambling halls.
The State Legislature last year gave first passage of a change to the state constitution to permit up to seven casinos on non-Indian lands.
The Legislature did not say where the casinos would be located.
If the same resolution passes this year, the matter will go to voters in a statewide referendum this fall.
In his State of the State address Wednesday, Cuomo said he wants lawmakers to pass legislation for what he called “phase one” of the casino expansion.
In that phase, the first three casinos would have to be built upstate.
Cuomo said his plan would help the upstate economy by forcing casino developers, who would first want to build in New York City, to build in locations north of the city.
Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. declined to comment.