New York state and the Seneca Nation are currently in negotiations over a new gaming compact. The current compact expires in 2023.
“What we’re working to do is create a fair compact. Right now, it is very timely. It is of the essence. There is only 13 months left on the compact,” Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels told Capital Tonight.
While Pagels insists the Senecas are “putting every foot forward” to make themselves available for negotiations, he told Capital Tonight that the Hochul administration hasn’t been.
“She’s making not as much of a commitment,” Pagels claimed.
Another issue, according to Pagels, is that many Senecas are still angry that the governor leveraged gaming compact money to fund a portion of the Buffalo Bills stadium deal.
“It will never be forgotten,” he told Capital Tonight.
According to Pagels, Gov. Hochul’s decision to freeze the Nation’s bank accounts prevented many casino employees from accessing health care and prescription medication.
The issue came up in last week’s gubernatorial debate when Hochul reiterated that part of the money to pay for the new Buffalo Bills’ stadium comes from an “off-set” made possible by money owed to the state from the Seneca Nation’s gaming compact.
A little history: The compact was a deal inked between the state and the Senecas crafted back in 2002. In it, New York agreed to allow the Senecas to operate three gambling casinos in exchange for a share of the revenue.
The deal worked for 14 years. Then, in 2016, the Seneca Nation and the state, under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, disagreed on the terms of the compact (this was after the state had amended the constitution to make casino gambling legal). The disagreement ended up before an arbitration panel, which ultimately ruled that the money the Senecas owed the state was to be kept in an escrow account.
While the Senecas agreed to pay the money to the state, there was some internal opposition, delaying payment.
It was during this moment that Gov. Hochul opted to freeze the Nation’s accounts in order to leverage what the Nation owed to New York: $564 million. Of that money, $418 million would be earmarked for the new Buffalo Bills stadium.
At the time, Gov. Hochul said, “I thank President Pagels and the Nation leadership for fulfilling their commitment to the people of New York.”
The Seneca Nation wasn’t happy with how the deal came together. President Pagels said at the time, "The governor’s new stadium won’t be a product of progress. It will be a monument to Albany’s vindictive desire to punish the Seneca people.”
During last week’s debate, Republican candidate Lee Zeldin said Hochul “screwed over” the Seneca Nation with the deal, something Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels agreed with.
“What the governor did was literally putting politics over people,” said Pagels to Capital Tonight. “She put a gun to our head to make a decision.”
When asked if he had a message for the governor regarding negotiations over a new gaming compact, Pagels asked that she provide a statement saying that the compact is “instrumental to western New York.”
“There are thousands of people, thousands of jobs. Not just the Senecas but Western New York lives around the three facilities owned by the Seneca Nation and we need her commitment,” he said.
According to an email from a Hochul administration spokesperson, staff at the Executive Chamber and Gaming Commission have begun negotiations with the Seneca Nation.
“We are confident that the process will continue in a way that best serves New Yorkers," wrote Hazel Crampton-Hays.