By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette —
City officials are viewing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent comments about gaming expansion in New York state as a positive.
During his state of the state address earlier this week, Cuomo proposed adding three casinos in "upstate" as part of the first phase of statewide gaming expansion.
During a meeting with reporters Thursday in Albany, Cuomo indicated that his proposal does not envision new casinos in areas with gambling compacts "in good standing," suggesting the Seneca Nation of Indians would continue to hold exclusive rights to offer slot machines and other Class III gaming activities in Western New York for the foreseeable future.
Mayor Paul Dyster issued a press release on Friday in response to the governor's comments, saying he views Cuomo's statements as a good sign for the city of Niagara Falls.
"I think it opens a path to negotiations," Dyster said during an interview Friday. "It gives the Senecas something to negotiate for."
The state and the Seneca Nation are now trying to settle their dispute over claims from the Senecas that "racinos" operating within the nation's exclusivity zone break the conditions of the existing gambling compact. The Senecas stopped payments to the state in 2009 and now owe an estimated $350 million. The city hasn't been paid either and is now owed roughly $60 million in gaming revenue.
Dyster said time is beginning to become a real issue in the revenue dispute both because the city has been having cash flow issues largely related to not receiving host community payments and because the two sides need to start negotiating a new agreement. The current compact expires in 2016.
"If that issue is unresolved it would make it, politically, very difficult for the compact to be renewed," Dyster said. "Certainly, as the host community, we would find it very difficult to support a renewal of the compact if the compact was not operating properly."
City Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said he is also encouraged by the governor's comments.
"I'm definitely for anything that's going to move this dispute along in a speedy fashion," Choolokian said.
But, Choolokian said, he's still worried that the city's needs will come second to those of the Seneca Nation and the state despite the city being the entity that gave up the most under the terms of the current gaming compact.
"Hopefully, Niagara Falls can receive its funds and we can move forward," Choolokian said.
Gaming expansion in New York is not a done deal. State lawmakers approved first passage of a measure that would allow up to seven new casinos in the state. Second passage is required before the measure can be voted on by the public in a referendum. State officials have suggested that the process is on course to have the measure presented to voters this November.