What to Know
- The Seneca Indian Nation will stop sharing its casino revenue with New York state at the end of the month, the tribe said Thursday
- The nation is willing to make payments to the three cities where its casinos are located in exchange for services, the nation president said
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office had a different interpretation, and said the payments should continue
The Seneca Indian Nation will stop sharing its casino revenue with New York state at the end of the month after turning over $1.4 billion over the last 14 years, the western New York tribe said Thursday.
President Todd Gates told reporters that the nation is willing to make payments to the three cities where its casinos are located in exchange for services, but that its financial obligation to the state as outlined in a 2002 compact has ended.
"This is not new," Gates said. "The language of the compact has not changed. We're following the language of the compact as we always have."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office had a different interpretation, saying the payments should continue.
In the 2002 contract, the state gave the tribe exclusive rights to operate three casinos in western New York in exchange for up to 25 percent of slot machine revenues, which the state has split with Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, the host communities responsible for providing municipal services to the casinos.
Gates, who was elected in November, said that while the 800-page compact remains in place through 2023, the revenue-sharing requirement ended after 14 years.
The original contract was a 14-year agreement. It automatically renewed for seven years.
"It's clear this payment structure remains in place," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said, pointing to the contract and a 2013 memo the two sides signed to settle an earlier dispute. "If the new leadership of the nation has questions, or a different interpretation of this, they haven't shared them with us, but we're willing to meet and discuss any issues."
The Seneca Nation wants to negotiate new financial agreements with the host cities, Gates said.
He said the nation would make its final quarterly payment of about $30 million around March 31.
Salamanca Mayor Michael Smith, who is a member of the Seneca Nation, said Seneca leaders privately told him about the plans last week and urged him "not to panic."
"They asked us to believe that the host communities would continue to be taken care of," he said, "and I believe that."
But Smith said he has no plans to negotiate an agreement with the Senecas because the nation's compact with the state remains in place.
"I count on the Seneca Nation and the state of New York to settle their differences," he said.
Most of Salamanca is located on Seneca Nation territory, making 73 percent of the small city tax-exempt. Even though the annual casino payments of about $6 million account for 60 percent of the city's budget, "we're not in panic mode because of this," the mayor said.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said the Senecas remain obligated to make payments and has received assurances from the state "that any assertions to the contrary are categorically incorrect."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown did not respond to a request for comment.