Seneca leaders, NY state meet on gambling dispute

Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press
Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- New York state and Seneca Indian Nation leaders appear to be making progress toward settling a long-running standoff over casino gambling that has taken on new urgency as Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes plans to allow casinos off tribal land.

Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. met with members of Cuomo's administration for several hours in Albany on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Senecas confirmed Thursday.

Snyder, who then flew back to western New York, was not available to discuss the meeting, she said.

The Cuomo administration also declined to comment.

The Senecas operate three casinos, in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, under an agreement with the state that requires them to share slot machine revenues with the state and host cities in exchange for being the only casino operators in the region. But the tribe has been withholding payments — totaling more than $500 million — since 2009, contending New York broke its exclusivity promise by allowing video lottery terminals at nearby racetracks, which now market themselves as casinos.

Now with Cuomo looking to place casinos off tribal lands in the name of economic development, the governor has warned that Indian nations that are not in good standing with the state could see competition. Cuomo has proposed authorizing three Las Vegas-type casinos in upstate New York, two video slot machine centers in western New York and a moratorium on casinos in New York City. The governor wants a minimum $50 million licensing fee and a 25 percent cut of gross revenues going to the state.

In recent weeks, Cuomo has struck deals with the Oneidas and Mohawks to keep competition away from their existing casinos in exchange for settling lingering disputes.

But things have not gone as smoothly with the Senecas. Snyder last month called Cuomo a bully.

A three-person panel chaired by former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye was named last September to arbitrate.

The St. Regis Mohawks, who have withheld $59 million since 2010 in a similar dispute, signed an agreement with the state last month to preserve their exclusive casino territory in northern New York while paying the state $30 million in gambling proceeds that have been withheld.

The accord also opened the door to negotiations with the state and counties over Mohawk land claims near their reservation along the Canadian border.

Under the agreement with the Oneidas, the central New York tribe will receive exclusive territory for its Turning Stone casino, and the state will get a cut of casino revenue. Also, local tax and land disputes would be resolved.