Santa Has Departed Without Leaving Any Casino Cash

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Santa has come and gone and he departed without leaving any bags of casino cash in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, or Salamanca, the three host casino cities reeling from the loss of the slot payments as the state and the Seneca Nation slug it out over whether the payments will resume.

Sources say the state put up a weak case in the recent arbitration in arguing the Senecas are required to continue to pay the state 25 percent of the slot profits under the 2002 gaming compact, even though the language in the compact does not continue the payments after 2016.

In fact, sources tell this newspaper that the state backed off its demand at the hearing for the Senecas to pay 8 percent interest on the money it has not paid since the dispute began.

“It was going nowhere,” said a source in describing the state’s decision to fold its hand on the interest payments in a two-day hearing earlier this month that was conducted under a virtual news blackout.  A decision from the panel is not expected until at least the middle of next month, but considering the blackout it is hard to gauge when it will come.

The Senecas have paid the state about $1.4 billion since the compact began, some of it actually coming back to the host cities which have come to view it as a fixed revenue source.  It is not, and the cities are hurting without it.

As the battle continues between the state and the Senecas, Niagara Falls is gearing up for a mayoral election next year with casino money as the backdrop.

There are two announced candidates so far:  former Niagara Falls City Judge Robert Restaino and Seth Piccirillo, the city’s community development director under Mayor Paul Dyster.  While Dyster has not committed to seeking a fourth term, sources tell this newspaper he is being urged to run again by his closest advisers.

And why would Dyster jump into the fray given his debatable record and the city’s crumbling fortunes under his hero, Gov. Andrew Cuomo?  Well, sources hint the mayor may have been passed over for a plum state job that he had been hoping for, leaving him out on a political limb.

If anyone ever deserved a patronage job from the Cuomo administration, it is Dyster.  He has been in lockstep with the governor all the way, whether deflecting criticism of the long-delayed Hamister Hotel project or standing by Cuomo in the last gaming dispute which ended in 2013 after four long years.

Dyster won’t comment and the Cuomo administration only speaks on its own terms, with the governor slipping in and out of Western New York when he wants to, something he has done a lot less of over the last 18 months because of the Buffalo Billion corruption scandal. 

Dyster is a Democrat and so is Piccirillo, his trusted aide for the last six years.  And so is Restaino, meaning if Dyster does decide to run again, it could be a three-way primary in September if Piccirillo stays in against his boss.

As of now, it is only Restaino and Piccirillo, and Piccirillo has already tried to distance himself from Dyster in the early stages of his campaign, something he may have a hard time doing given his job history.

As for the gaming dispute, the walls could come tumbling down on Niagara Falls if the state loses the arbitration on the casino cash and all of the candidates will have to deal with that fallout, and that means finding lots of money in a hurry.

Several observers who declined to speak on the record are hopeful that the Senecas and the state will reach some kind of settlement on the dispute, one that will provide some relief– one way or another– to the host cities.  Dyster has stuck with Cuomo the entire time, refusing to even talk to the Senecas about some kind of arrangement in lieu of the casino payments.  He came out on top with that strategy in 2013, but this is a different time and five years later.

Well, the New Year will be here shortly and there will be plenty of time to deal with it all, including what promises to be a very exciting political year in Niagara Falls.

We here at the Niagara Reporter wish all of you a Happy New Year and add our hopes for a satisfactory resolution of the gaming crisis.  We’ll do our best to keep you informed despite the news blackout.

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