No End in Sight to Seneca Gaming Stalemate for Niagara Falls Lawmakers

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By: Tony Farina

The chances of Niagara Falls and the two other Western New York host casino cities receiving any money from revenue-sharing payments in the near future appear unlikely.  

The Seneca Nation has asked the federal Department of the Interior to review last January’s arbitration ruling in favor of the state, expressing concern that the panel in effect rewrote the 2002 gaming compact by continuing payments past 2016 and fixing the shared amount at 25 percent of slot proceeds going forward, a number the Senecas apparently believe is too high.

In April, the arbitration panel ordered the Senecas to pay the state $255 million in back payments dating to 2017 but not a dime of that money has flowed to the state and none appears to be coming anytime soon.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster and the other host cities are feeling the pinch, and it could get a lot worse as even if the Senecas strike out with the Interior Department review, a federal court challenge under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is seen as likely by sources close to the Senecas.  

Meanwhile the host cities are left wondering how they are going to make do going forward without the casino payments, which had been plugged into their spending plans for 2019.

Lame duck Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster is looking to Albany in the face of the continuing gaming stalemate, but how will the state cover the shortfalls in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca if there’s no settlement this year?

Niagara Falls, which has used casino cash as budget filler for the last several years against the advice of the state comptroller, is now worried about the $12 million pledged by the state if needed to cover latest budget shortfall created by the stalemate.  The future of the payments remains in doubt as of this writing.

What seems likely is some kind of compromise possibility on the revenue sharing payments if the Senecas continue to believe they have been wronged by the terms of the compact.  But how much of a compromise, and when?  Right now, it is pure guesswork, and nobody really knows what’s going to happen.  Will it be blackjack for the host cities or a bust?

Stay tuned.

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