ALBANY – The head of the Seneca Nation of Indians on Tuesday took his cause to protect the tribe’s casino developments to legislative leaders in Albany.
Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr., twice calling Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo a “bully,” said his meetings with top Democratic and Republican lawmakers were aimed at persuading them to honor the tribe’s exclusivity deal for gambling rights in Western New York.
“He’s a bully. I’ll say it again – he’s a bully,” Snyder said in an interview with The Buffalo News.
Snyder’s visit to Albany came as Cuomo has privately told officials he is readying a casino expansion bill that would open the way for one new, non-Indian casino in Western New York. He has already floated the idea of putting a casino in Niagara Falls near the Seneca Nation’s casino and hotel.
Cuomo officials don’t believe the Senecas will be serious about making a deal with the state in the dispute over the Seneca’s withholding of casino-revenue sharing until the state formally seeks to cut a real deal with a private developer for a non-Indian Niagara Falls casino, according to individuals close to the talks.
Cuomo administration officials declined to comment on Snyder’s remarks.
One lawmaker who met with Snyder said the Seneca leader made clear his frustrations in dealing with the Cuomo administration and raised doubts about being able to strike a deal with the governor before the legislative session ends June 20.
Snyder said his meetings Tuesday with lawmakers were intended to persuade them not to locate a new casino in Western New York.
“Just honor the compact,” he said he told legislative leaders.
“We don’t care where they build [casinos] as long as they don’t build in our exclusivity area. We don’t care. They can build all over the state,” Snyder said.
Still, Snyder sought to downplay concerns about Cuomo’s threat to locate a new casino in Niagara Falls.
“It doesn’t worry me. We’ve been here for 10 years. We’ve built up our customer base … I like the McDonald’s concept. McDonald’s moves in, then Burger King, then Pizza Hut. Everybody moves in the same area, and we get all the customers. I like the concept. I’m really thinking competition may be good for us. We’re not afraid of it.”
Snyder said his presence in Albany on Tuesday showed the Seneca Nation is interested in finding a solution to the dispute with Cuomo.
“We’ll do what we can, but it has to be equitable to the nation. It can’t be any other way,” he said.
The Seneca leader bristled at Cuomo’s recent suggestions that the Seneca casinos might have to close down in 2016 when the nation’s compact expires, if there is no deal with the state to resolve the $600 million dispute over unpaid revenue-sharing from the Seneca casinos. He noted the tribe’s casinos will soon employ close to 6,000 people, many of them non-Indians.
He noted that a majority of casino employees are non-Native. “They pay taxes and own homes and do all the good things for the state, so why would you want to jeopardize that if you’re a good leader?” Snyder said.