Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder Sr. said Friday that he wants to resolve a $600 million casino revenue-sharing dispute with the state but that comments from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have not helped.
“The Seneca Nation has acted in good faith and negotiated diplomatically, but we continue to experience over and over the childish antics of the state’s top leader and his advisers,” Snyder said.
Snyder’s reply to the governor’s increasingly tough words of late about the dispute came in West Seneca at a commemoration of the 1842 Buffalo Creek Treaty. The treaty recognizes the sovereignty of the Seneca Nation.
The state and the Senecas are in arbitration over the tribe’s refusal to pay $600 million in revenue sharing. The Senecas claim the original compact gives them exclusive gambling rights in a large section of Western New York, but that it has been repeatedly violated by Albany.
The Seneca Nation 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.
Under the compact, which expires in 2016, the state gets 25 percent a year from Seneca slot machine revenues. Albany, in turn, shares a portion of that money with Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, homes to Seneca casinos. But the Senecas have withheld the payments to the state.
When speaking about whether the state would renew the compact, Cuomo questioned the Senecas’ “ability to honor a contract” and asked, “does the state want to do business with that type of experience?”
Without a compact, the Senecas have no authority to operate a casino, Cuomo said.
The governor has also floated the idea of putting a new non-Indian casino in Niagara Falls near the existing Seneca facility.
“Yet again he has chosen a path of playground bully tactics rather than one of maturity, dignity and mutual respect,” Snyder said of Cuomo.
Another Niagara Falls casino would violate the nation’s right to be the only casino operator in the area, as nearby “racinos” already do, which is why the nation has stopped payments to the state, Snyder said.
“Let us bring Class Three gaming into your territory, but we still want your money,” Snyder said, describing his interpretation of the state’s position in the dispute.
But Snyder said he hopes the dispute will end soon, with payments to the state resuming once a fair solution can be reached.
“We as the Senecas, we understand,” Snyder said.
“He’s got a lot of things on his table, a lot of major things in the state he’s trying to push. We understand that. We’re not here to say he shouldn’t do it. We’re just saying, live up to what our agreement is in the compact, in terms of exclusivity.”
Snyder said Western New York cannot support more casinos.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said he was happy to hear that Snyder thinks the matter can be resolved.
The bond rating for Niagara Falls was downgraded this week because of the uncertainty of the more than $60 million in casino revenues due to his city’s coffers.
“I continue to believe that the interests of both the Seneca Nation of Indians and the state of New York are best served by a negotiated settlement,” Dyster said.
The state’s agreement this week with the Oneida Nation, settling long-standing tax and land claim issues, is encouraging, because it shows Cuomo was able to get something done that has been in court since 1970, Dyster said.
“Only when it’s reached a stage of crisis that people recognize the importance of stepping back and coming up with mutually agreeable solutions,” he said. “I hope and have faith that this is one of those circumstances.”