ALBANY – A key State Senate Republican is proposing that Western New York could be eligible for a new non-Indian casino in five years if the Seneca Nation of Indians does not resolve its $600 million casino revenue-sharing dispute with the state.
Sen. John Bonacic, chairman of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, proposed a casino expansion bill that would restrict the first of five possible new casinos to upstate regions.
The fifth franchise, he said, could go to Western New York if the Senecas’ exclusivity casino arrangement with the state is not continued because of the battle with the Cuomo administration. The governor recently cut deals with two other upstate Indian tribes – the Oneidas and St. Regis Mohawks – that ban any new casinos from locating in large areas around their existing casino operations.
But Cuomo and Seneca leaders have failed to resolve a dispute in which the Senecas stopped making casino payments to Albany because they say the state allowed illegal new forms of gambling into its large exclusivity zone in Western New York.
In a public radio interview Thursday, Cuomo repeated what he has been saying for weeks.
“We’re basically nowhere with the Senecas, so we plan to bid out Western New York,” he said.
Cuomo said he doesn’t expect a deal with the Senecas before the Legislature ends its 2013 session next month.
In the past, he has said he would put Western New York in play for a new non-Indian casino. He also has said that if the state and Senecas don’t reach agreement, he would push to possibly locate a new casino in Niagara Falls.
Any casino expansion plan still needs another round of approval by the Legislature this year if it is to go before voters in November.
The emergence of Bonacic’s plan is an important signal to the Senecas because the bill was vetted by Senate GOP leadership. The tribe has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations to Senate Republicans in recent years to help keep the GOP in at least partial control of the Senate, and Senate Republicans from Western New York have been among the strongest supporters of the Seneca Nation on everything from tax-free cigarette sales to protecting its casino ventures.
Bonacic, a Republican who represents the Catskills region, said his area should get three of the five upstate casinos under his plan because it was promised three gambling halls in the same legislation that gave the Senecas their three casinos in 2001. Various tribal casino deals for the Catskills never materialized.
His bill also would allow a casino in the Southern Tier and the Albany area.
No casino under the Senate plan could go in Manhattan, except Queens, or on Long Island. However, Bonacic proposed allowing two gambling halls on Long Island that would be restricted to offering video lottery terminals, which are the slot-like devices offered at the track-based racinos in Hamburg and Batavia.