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Seneca Nation Says New York Should Commence Compact Negotiations Soon

Written By Derek Helling on May 31, 2023
seneca nation casino operators are calling for new compact negotiations to begin soon

Even though New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has removed herself from the situation directly, the Seneca Nation has made it clear it isn’t going into negotiations on a new gaming compact with the utmost confidence in mutual interests guiding those talks. Rather, the Seneca Nation has called upon the state to begin those consultations in earnest and do so fairly.

The new compact will guide the relationship between New York and the Seneca Nation for the foreseeable future, during which time there could be massive expansion in commercial gaming in the state. The high stakes of the deal are compounded by the already fraught nature of the relationship.

Seneca Nation representative discusses compact negotiations

According to Zach Williams of the New York Post, the Seneca Nation is ready to start discussions on a new gaming compact immediately. During a news conference at the state capitol in Albany on Tuesday, Seneca Nation Tribal Council Senior Member Tina Abrams gave her perspective on the situation.

“We hear a lot of words coming from Albany about ‘New York values, social equality, health care as a human right, housing for all,’ but our people do not survive on words. It is time for New York to honor its relationship with the Seneca Nation. It’s time for the state to complete fair negotiations with the Seneca.”

The press conference came just days after Hochul announced she has recused herself from the compact negotiations. Her husband is an executive with entertainment company Delaware North, whose operations include gaming. Two members of her staff will lead the negotiations in her place.

Abrams did not comment on whether Hochul’s recusal improves her outlook on the negotiations. She also did not offer any opinion on Hochul’s “replacements.” Regardless of who leads the negotiations, they have their work cut out for them.

New York, Seneca Nation aren’t on the best terms already

The state of New York and the Seneca Nation aren’t figuratively holding hands and skipping together down a fictitious path to a horizon full of rainbows. A more appropriate allegorical scene would be far more dreary and isolated.

When Hochul took office, she stepped into a tenuous situation with the Seneca Nation. Years prior, the Seneca Nation had ceased making revenue sharing payments to the state, citing its interpretation of the gaming compact.

The state had sued, again prior to Hochul taking office, and that dispute was in litigation. Hochul took action to resolve the conflict that was unpopular with the Seneca Nation. She froze the assets of the Seneca Nation in a move to try to force them to make payment to the state.

Shortly thereafter, a judgment in favor of the state came from the courts. Rather than appeal, the Seneca Nation negotiated a payment with the state to bring its revenue-sharing account current. Since she froze the accounts, though, suffice to say that Hochul likely doesn’t appear on any Seneca Nation honoree lists.

The Seneca Nation is also probably not so thrilled about the expansion of commercial gaming in New York that has occurred since it agreed to its current compact in 2002. That’s included four upstate commercial brick-and-mortar casinos, racetracks adding slots, and online sports betting.

More of the same is ahead in New York. That’s why the Seneca Nation is so insistent on a new compact that it deems fair. The definition of that term could lead to charged discussions.

What might the Seneca Nation consider a “fair” deal?

The further expansion of commercial gaming in New York is currently occupying officials in Albany. The Seneca Nation could perceive that as a larger threat to its gaming revenues.

At some point in the near future, New York will grant licenses to operate three downstate casinos. Additionally, the state seriously considered legalizing online casino play earlier this year and should take up that issue again in 2024.

Those aren’t immediate threats to the Seneca Nation’s business on their faces. Those new casinos won’t be in the Seneca’s territory. Also, the proposal for real-money online casinos included the state’s tribal casinos in the framework.

Regardless, the general concept of expanded commercial gaming more than the specific details could pose a threat in the eyes of the Seneca Nation. In compact negotiations, they will have two primary interests; protecting the territory their casinos occupy to stave off competition and keeping as much of their revenue as possible.

In those interests, they will seek assurances from New York that no gaming facilities will be allowed to open within the borders of their exclusivity region. Moreover, the Seneca Nation will want to maintain or even reduce the current percentage of their revenues they share with the state.

Assurances on regional exclusivity could be less of an issue for Hochul’s team than the revenue sharing agreement. The terms of those payments could be the point which proves to be the most difficult for the sides to come together on.

Compact negotiations can be tenuous even when the sides are on good terms coming into talks. Abrams’ comments show that Hochul’s appointees will start off the discussions in an atmosphere that is less than ideal.

Photo by AP Photo/David Duprey; illustrated by PlayUSA
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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