This week, a new bill was introduced by New York lawmakers, which if passed would begin negotiations between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians on a new gaming compact. The legislation is sponsored by Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow and Sen. Tim Kennedy. However, it remains to be seen whether Gov. Kathy Hochul will sign the bill off.
It should be noted that previously, the governor said she will defer to New York State Gaming Commission. This was in relation to the fact, that her husband, former U.S. Attorney William Hochul works for Delaware North. The company owns two racinos which are competitors of Seneca Nation’s three casino properties in Western New York.
Titled A.7350/S.7117, the new bill would authorize the same zone of exclusivity for the tribe as the one from 2002, but it would also allow the Nation more freedom to sue the state by waiving portions of the state’s qualified immunity from lawsuits. However, there is not much time left, as the current gaming compact will expire this December.
In their legislation, the two lawmakers wrote that an equitable and fair compact is one of the most effective means by which the state can honour its duty to the people of Seneca. They noted that the agreement is crucial as the nation had no taxation authority, thus, a large portion of its proceeds are generated through the compact, funding health care, infrastructure, education, and environmental initiatives.
Furthermore, similar to a Seneca Nation rally the bill also hints that the state officials were not negotiating in good faith. The two lawmakers claimed that if the governor does not join the discussions with the tribe or does not negotiate in good faith, the state will waive its sovereign immunity to allow the nation to take legal action against the governor.
Also, the legislation can put the state in a risky position by including the exclusivity zone and opening the state for potential litigation. The lack of another piece of authorizing legislation may leave no choice to Hochul but to approve the bill, despite its language, which the governor’s office reluctance. There is also the case of her starting her own program or calling a special session later in 2023.
In a recent statement, State Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from Sunset Bay weighed in on the topic of a new compact. He that the state Legislature would most likely have to vote on an agreement before the end of the session in June. He added sessions can be called for important political events, but he does not believe that it would be the case for the tribe’s compact.
Bitter Past Between the Two
Due to the past issues between the state and the tribe, it is only natural for the discussions to be problematic. There was a dispute over unpaid gaming payments to the state, which was resolved in Q1 of 2022 when NY forced Seneca’s hand by freezing its accounts. Leaving the tribe no choice but to honour its US$565 million in financial obligations to the state.
Source: Whittaker, John “Gaming Compact Bill Stirs Casino Pot Further” The Post Journal, May 29, 2023