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Gaming Settlement Still a Long Shot at Best

By Tony Farina

The Niagara Falls taxpayer is sometimes seen as an idiot. After all Albany gave to the Seneca Nation of Indians, 50 acres in the middle of downtown Niagara Falls so that the Senecas can have a gaming monopoly and, more importantly, open any business tax free and then compete against the people of Niagara Falls who are, incidentally, among the highest taxed, almost the poorest and certainly the most impotent people in the nation. And you know what? No one even seems to mind it here.

Seneca (L) and Albany (R) make a compact as Niagara Falls watches happily (underfoot.) A moment in history: 2002. We hate to say "we told you so," but we first published this in 2006.

True of False: Niagara Fall residents are invited to take this free idiot test. Please answer Yes or No. No essays please! The question: As a Niagara Falls resident, I truly believe that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the leadership of the Seneca Nation of Indians have our best interest at heart. To submit your answer to the Free Idiot Test, please send $5.00 cash to "I'm an Idiot and I live in Niagara Falls," PO Box 3083, Niagara Falls, NY, 14304. No checks please.

Anyone who is betting on a gaming settlement before June 20 that will deliver $60 million in overdue slot revenue to the City of Niagara Falls is backing a long shot, by all accounts, and the odds seem to be getting longer by the day.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest ultimatum that Western New York will be fair game for a non-Indian casino unless the dispute is resolved before the legislative session ends June 20 only confirms the obvious stalemate in the arbitration process over the exclusivity rights under the current compact.

And if you need more evidence that Cuomo’s threats are falling on deaf ears, read the comments of longtime Seneca businessman Ross John in response to a question from the Reporter about the governor’s latest threats in his efforts to get the Senecas to agree to a settlement:

“It [his threats] really has no effect on the [arbitration] process,” said John in a telephone interview on Monday. “The governor is really being disingenuous when he knows there is a gag order [on the arbitration]. His threats will have no impact.”

As far as competition from another casino in the region, as Cuomo is threatening, John said “we welcome competition in the gaming market. Bring it on,” adding he believes the governor should stop talking the way he is and stop trying to pressure the Senecas to get the $600 million in slot revenue that is owed to the state over the last three years under the current compact, money that has been withheld by the Senecas in protest.

John said he expects the Senecas to maintain their position, saying the dispute has gone to arbitration because the state has violated the exclusivity terms in the gaming compact by opening three “racinos” in the exclusivity zone.

John also said that it is his belief that any settlement on the dispute should not be delivered to Albany but in large measure should stay in Western New York where it is needed.  In his words, “Albany should get out of the way,” saying so far it is his belief that nothing put on the table by the state “makes any sense” as far as being realistic to reaching a negotiated settlement.

Cuomo said last week in a press release that the state will honor contracts with Indian tribes that are in good standing but added that if the compact is not in good standing, “the region would be eligible for a commercial (non-Indian) gaming resort.”

For Niagara Falls, one of the three host cities in Western New York under the current compact and the one most damaged by the ongoing dispute when it comes to lost slot revenue, the outlook appears grim.

Mayor Paul Dyster, trying his best to stay positive, says he’s still hoping for a settlement soon, calling it the best option.  As far as another casino in the region is concerned, the mayor said the city would be a good candidate if it comes to that.

City Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian says the city is continuing to tighten its fiscal belt in face of the possibility that a solution (and $60 million) is not coming soon.”

“We have suffered long enough,” said Choolokian. “We just need to get the money we are owed as soon as possible to help keep the city viable. It has gone on too long."

The Fools over here would like to know?

The racetrack casino industry, whose expansion was the catalyst that sparked the Senecas to stop paying casino revenues, contributed $830.5 million to the state last year and is expected to top one billion this year.

When the Senecas paid, they paid in the neighborhood of $130 million per year to Albany, out of which Niagara Falls got a measly $20 million or so per year.

Obviously, Albany is willing to forgo $130 million per year and leave Niagara Falls in the toilet in order to get their hands on $900 million or more per year from racinos.

But, one has to ask, why wouldn't Albany pay Niagara Falls its $20 million pittance out of the nearly one billion in racino money they get?




Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

May 14, 2013