If a new bill in the New York Senate becomes law, agreements between the state and tribal gaming authorities that already undergo four separate stages of review will see even further administrative oversight. One state senator wants a different part of the state’s executive branch to weigh in on the matters.
The bill would require the New York State comptroller to review all pending gaming compacts. While that matter seemingly falls within the purview of the Comptroller’s Office, such a review could prove quite redundant.
S7502 mandates comptroller inspection of gaming compacts
Essentially, the bill would add another part of the executive branch of New York’s government to the mix for tribal gaming compacts.
The bill, S7502, is currently in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill’s sponsor, George M. Borrello, is a member of that committee. Currently, that committee does not have any hearings scheduled.
The bill does not give the comptroller the authority to revoke approval or modify the terms of a compact agreement between New York and a tribal gaming authority. Rather, it requires the state comptroller to review such documents.
The comptroller would then issue any recommendations they might have for changes. If there are none, the comptroller would simply recommend that the compact receive final approval as it stands. The bill also directs that review to focus on four facets of the compact.
- Whether the compact negotiations followed proper procedures
- Whether any lobbying of state officials influenced the compact drafting
- To what degree the compact might compromise existing tribal gaming exclusivity agreements
- “any other factor the comptroller deems relevant”
Should the bill become law, it would take effect immediately. Borrello’s stated justification for the legislation makes it quite clear why that immediate effective date is in the text.
Borrello cites Seneca Nation negotiations in bill justification
In his justification for S7502, Borrello states his motivation plainly.
“With the gaming compact between New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians set to expire at the end of this year, negotiations are underway to renew or create a new compact for the Senecas to continue operating casinos in Western New York. It has been publicly reported that Governor [Kathy] Hochul has recused herself from any negotiations between the State and the Seneca Nation. She is, in fact, the Executive Branch and cannot fully recuse herself from ultimate sign off on any compact that is negotiated, with or without her involvement. … This bill would provide the necessary checks on the Governor’s authority to ensure a fair and equitable compact. This legislation will protect both the Senecas’ interests and the taxpayers of New York State.”
As Borrello stated, Hochul has indeed recused herself from the Seneca Nation talks. At the same time, representatives for the Seneca Nation have communicated that they are apprehensive about getting a fair deal out of the discussions. Borrello also recently shared his perspective on the ongoing negotiations with Ryan Whalen of Spectrum Local News.
“I’m just not hearing good things about the compact negotiation,” Borello stated.
Borrello’s district includes the land that one of the three Seneca casinos sits upon. However, outside of having a vote on the eventual compact proposal like every other member of the New York Senate, Borrello is not directly involved in the negotiations.
While Borrello cited the negotiations with the Seneca Nation as his motivation for this legislation, it would not sunset after those negotiations are complete. Barring amendment or repeal, it would add a permanent step to the compact process in New York should it become law. That step would be a comptroller review.
What is the comptroller?
In New York, the state comptroller is an elected official who functions as part of the state’s executive branch of government. That official is responsible for oversight of the entire state government in terms of limiting fraudulent or wasteful spending. Additionally, the comptroller manages the pension fund for New York state employees.
The current occupant of the position is Thomas P. DiNapoli. DiNapoli first took office in 2007 when the state legislature voted him in to fill a vacancy. Since then, DiNapoli has won statewide reelection to the post four times.
The language of the bill lends itself to the comptroller’s duties well. It is indeed well within the comptroller’s powers to review any government action for proper procedures and the impact of outside influences.
There has been nothing to stop DiNapoli or any of his predecessors from undertaking such a review of any gaming compact, though. S7502 would simply require DiNapoli and others to follow him to do so. At this time, DiNapoli has no comment on S7502. DiNapoli does have some experience in evaluating situations related to gambling, though.
In November 2020, DiNapoli released a report on the revenue the state makes from gaming compared to the resources it devotes to deter and treat compulsive gambling. In 2021, DiNapoli stated that the state’s four commercial casinos owed New York millions in unpaid oversight fees.
Regardless of the suitability of the office and DiNapoli, there are questions about the necessity of a further review.
Gaming compacts already undergo significant inspection
Part of the reason why tribal gaming compacts can take years to complete is the review process. Currently, final approval necessitates no less than four stages of review. The current process in simple terms includes:
- Negotiations between tribal gaming authorities and the governor, as required by the New York Constitution
- Review and concurrence from the New York legislature
- Ratification by members of the appropriate Indigenous Peoples Group(s)
- Review and certification by the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
- Final review and approval from the governor and the tribal authorities
At some stage, the current process addresses all the concerns that Borrello mentioned. The legislature already provides a check against the governor’s authority. Failing that, such compacts cannot become final until the BIA and the members of the respective tribe(s) give their consent as well.
The bill states that a compact agreement could not be submitted to the BIA until the comptroller reviews it. It gives the comptroller thirty days from receipt to provide its analysis. While that measure would limit delays, there are still uncertainties. For instance, it’s unclear whether tribes would delay local ratification votes until comptroller reviews are complete.
Since negotiations on the compact with the Seneca Nation are underway, the bigger question could be whether those will close before the legislature in Albany takes any action on this bill. If that proves the case, this proposal might never see any action.