The Seneca Nation has taken its plea for a better gambling deal with the state of New York to the court of public opinion.
The tribe has begun a campaign of TV and radio ads and messages on billboards and social media advocating that it deserves a better gaming compact than the one that expires at the end of 2022. The Seneca Nation says it has sent nearly $2 billion in payments to Albany garnered from revenue at the three gaming sites it runs in the Buffalo region: Seneca Niagara, Seneca Buffalo Creek, and Seneca Allegany.
The campaign centers on the economic contributions the tribe has made to western New York, where it employs 5,000 people, and the troubling history of New York’s dealings with the tribe over the last several hundred years.
The tribe has begun a new website, StandWithSeneca.com, to further its agenda in advance of talks with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration on a new gaming compact.
“The economic statistics are impressive, but they only tell part of the story,” Kevin Nephew, president and CEO Of Seneca Gaming Corp., told the Niagara Gazette. “Their true impact is felt in the living rooms of the thousands of western New Yorkers who work in our facilities. For our co-workers, the statistics represent the groceries they buy for their family, the mortgage payment on their home, their children’s tuition, and every other part of life that their paychecks help make possible.”
Long history of conflict
The state took the Seneca Nation to binding arbitration and won a 2-1 ruling in the case two years ago before the Senecas announced in January they were dropping their lawsuit against New York and would resume making cash payments in exchange for negotiating a new gaming compact by the end of December.
Part of the tribe’s unhappiness could stem from being cut out of the bill signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to legalize mobile sports betting in the state two years ago. New York launched mobile sports betting in January and has already seen a stunning $8.8 billion in wagers, resulting in gross gaming revenue for the nine licensed operators of $640 million, of which $326 million has gone to the state via taxes.
Sports betting plays a role
According to Sen. Joe Addabbo, the chairman of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, the three New York tribes with gambling interests — including the Senecas — would have been offered mobile betting licenses under an original plan. Cuomo, however, wanted to restrict the number of operators while following the New Hampshire plan, which included imposing a 51% tax on gross gaming revenue.
Addabbo said his team met with Seneca leaders in 2019 and that he and Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow were prepared to include them in any mobile sports betting plans, but that Cuomo’s administration put the kibosh on that possibility. The legislators have no role in the new compact negotiations, but Addabbo and other leaders will be monitoring those discussions.
“Really, what they’re looking for is respect and to work with the administration,” Addabbo told NY Online Gambling. “I would have thought they would have had a better time and better possibility of obtaining that respect under the Hochul administration than under the prior administration. So, I can only hope that rational thought prevails and there’s some type of navigating a way toward resolving issues and to get a compact in the end. I’ll be watching it from a gaming perspective.”