Things are heating up in New York, where Gov. Kathy Hochul has recused herself from negotiating a new gaming compact with the Seneca Nation.
According to experts, Hochul is stepping away from negotiations because her husband, William Hochul, is senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Delaware North, a direct competitor of the Seneca Nation’s three casinos.
In her stead, Hochul is tapping two senior aides, Director of State Operations Kathryn Garcia and Counsel Liz Fine, to hash out the agreement.
Tribe worried if the governor can remain on the fence
Speaking with The Buffalo News, Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. said although Garcia and Fine would handle negotiations, he didn’t think the governor could fully recuse herself.
“I don’t know how they react in the state, but I don’t sign nothing unless I know what I’m signing,” Armstrong said.
“I think she has to know, to some degree, and agree, to some degree. I also think she’s pushing the buttons behind the scenes. … Those ladies (Garcia and Fine) – even though she has confidence in them, and they’re calling the shots, and think she’s going to rely on them – at the same time, she has interaction with them, and she probably discusses (the negotiations). I just hope it stays fair on our end.”
Hochul’s office says the governor has delegated all negotiations to staff and recused herself to a degree beyond what the law requires.
In a statement, Hochul’s press secretary, Hazel Crampton-Hays, added:
“[All parties] have been having substantive negotiations with the Seneca Nation for 11 months. We are fully committed to continuing to meet, discuss and negotiate a compact, and we are confident that the process will continue in a way that best serves New Yorkers.”
New York and the Seneca Nation have been in dispute since 2017 when the tribe began withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in NY casino profits. The tribe argued its original compact, signed in 2002, did not require the payments to continue.
After three federal judges ruled against the Senecas, Hochul froze a Seneca bank account in March 2022. After that, the Seneca Nation was required to pay the state nearly $565 million in back payments.
Shortly after receiving the tribal payment, Hochul released the FY2022 state budget, which included public money for a new football stadium in Buffalo.
As a result, the tribe purchased radio and television ad time to express their displeasure. “The state of New York just received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Seneca Nation,” the ad begins with. The ad continues:
“The additional funding gave Gov. Hochul a great opportunity to help repair our roads, build hospitals, fix our bridges and support our schools. What did she do instead? She gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to build a football stadium for the NFL.”
New tribal gaming compact taking shape
According to Armstrong, roughly 85% of the new agreement has been hashed out, with outstanding issues being the most difficult.
Under its current agreement, the tribe pays 25% of its gaming revenue to the state, which Armstrong believes should go down under the new deal. Armstrong said the gaming landscape has changed since 2002, decreasing the value of the exclusivity zone.
“I think it was high to begin with, at 25%, With the intrusion of commercial gaming into our area or nearby our area, I don’t see the exclusivity having the same value it did 20 years ago. I think that 25% is a little excessive. We see it as a lesser amount.”
The tribe’s current compact expires in early December.