Seneca Nation and New York Gaming Compact Stalls after Rochester Casino Plans Leaked
Last week, we reported on the unexpected agreement in principle of a new gaming contract between the Seneca Nation and New York State.
Few details were released about the exact nature of the deal.
However, sources close to the discussions then revealed the state had been “quietly negotiating” on a proposed tribal casino in downtown Rochester, New York. That’s something that state and local Rochester officials have not greeted warmly.
The new compact was previously agreed upon and a bill allowing it to proceed passed the New York State Senate last week. However, when the Rochester casino part of the deal surfaced, the bill stalled before even getting a vote at the Assembly stage.
Conversation of This Magnitude
The current compact with the Seneca Nation expires in December this year.
On top of that, there’s a complex history of the past 20 years that ended up with New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) inheriting a $565 million tax dispute on taking office.
Hochul had even excused herself from the compact negotiations because her husband holds various senior roles at the Delaware North “racino,” which competes with the nearby Seneca’s casinos.
Given all of that, Hochul would have hoped to get swift passage of the new compact.
But with the concerns of Rochester’s leadership and citizens firmly expressed about the prospect of a local casino, hope of a swift resolution may be fading.
“We have heard lots of chatter about the possibility of a casino license being granted in the Rochester area,” Rochester Mayor Malik Evans said in a statement.
“It should be noted that neither city leadership nor members of our New York State delegation has been involved in any conversations related to this possibility. Any conversation of this magnitude that does not include local stakeholders is unacceptable.”
One such stakeholder who was not happy about the clandestine negotiations behind the deal was Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D-Rochester).
“I learned of it pretty late last night. I was extremely concerned about it,” he said in an interview with Politico over the weekend.
“This is something that should be seriously discussed in an open and transparent way, and if the rumor is correct… local folks should have a say in this.”
Nine members of Rochester City Council signed a letter to Governor Hochul on Monday. It asked her to “halt any conversation about a downtown Rochester casino.”
Not all locals are opposed, however, and certainly not the Seneca. However, any backroom negotiations from Hochul’s administration will not have done the proposal any favors.
Back at the beginning of this month, local news outlet Rochester Business Journal reported that the Seneca were looking at vacant real estate on Atlantic Avenue and in the Neighborhood of the Arts areas of the city.
“Anything related to gaming, I would hope we would have a conversation,” said Mayor Evans at the time. “I’m not necessarily opposed. But I would want a conversation, especially with the challenges we face. Quality of life is always the No. 1 conversation.”
Before Saturday’s discussions that failed to reach a vote, and after the potential Rochester deal came to light, Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. spoke to the Assembly.
“Rochester is a market we have been exploring for some time,” he said.
“We have come to a fair deal with the State, and it is incumbent on them to hold up their side of the bargain. The State Senate has already passed the bill providing the Governor authority to complete the deal, and we strongly encourage the Assembly to do the same.”
If the Seneca Nation were to open a casino in Rochester, it would first require federal and regulator approval, which would not be covered by any state gaming compact.