Gaming Compact Bill Stirs Casino Pot Further

Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, is pictured speaking on the Senate floor earlier this legislative session.

Required legislation has been introduced to begin negotiations between the state and Seneca Nation of Indians for a new gaming compact — though it’s unclear if Gov. Kathy Hochul will sign the bill if it is passed before the end of the state legislative session.

A.7350/S.7117 is sponsored by Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, D-Mt. Vernon, and Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo. Pretlow is also chairman of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee.

The legislation seems benign at first. A directive from the state Legislature is required for Hochul to begin negotiating a new compact with the Seneca Nation, though Hochul has said she will defer to the state Gaming Commission because her husband, former U.S. Attorney William Hochul, works for Delaware North, which owns two racinos that compete with the Seneca Nation’s casinos. But only Hochul can actually sign off on a contract between the state and Seneca Nation. A search of the state Assembly’s website shows no other authorizing legislation has been introduced.

Kennedy and Pretlow’s legislation authorizes the same zone of exclusivity approved in 2002, but the bill’s text would give the Seneca Nation more ability to sue the state by waiving portions of the state’s qualified immunity from lawsuits. The clock is ticking to both pass the authorizing bill and a new compact becasue the current compact ends Dec. 21, 2023. In addition to the economic benefits for the Seneca Nation, host communities in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca receive payments from the Seneca Nation.

“An equitable and fair compact is one of the most effective means by which the state of New York can honor its obligation to the Seneca people,” Pretlow and Kennedy wrote in their legislative justification. “This is vitally important as the nation has no taxation authority, and thus rely, in large part, on the revenue they generate through the compact to fund essential government services including health care, infrastructure, education, and environmental initiatives. Furthermore, the compact is responsible for thousands of quality jobs for non-Seneca New Yorkers, hundreds of millions of dollars in direct state and local government revenue, and significant secondary economic activity.”

The bill’s text waiving the state’s legal immunity is interesting, though, given a recent Seneca Nation rally which accused Hochul and state officials of not bargaining in good faith. That same term is used in the bill authorizing negotiations as a reason for the state to waive portions of its legal immunity. Kennedy and Pretlow state if the governor doesn’t enter into negotiations with the nation or doesn’t negotiate in good faith the state will waive its sovereign immunity to allow the Seneca Nation to take action against the governor in state or federal court.

“Despite the fact that the Seneca Nation-New York State Casino Compact is set to expire in December 2023, the state has not been bargaining in good faith and, in fact, has delayed negotiations for a number of months,” rally organizer J.C. Seneca said recently. “It is time that the true decision makers from the governor’s executive chamber and the state gaming commission bargain in good faith with Seneca Nation leaders to reach a fair compact agreement.”

The bill could place the state in a precarious position by including the exclusivity zone and opening the state up to potential litigation. The absence of another piece of authorizing legislation may leave Hochul little choice but to sign the Kennedy/Pretlow bill despite language the governor’s office doesn’t favor. Hochul could introduce her own program bill in the Legislature or call a special sesson later in the year as happened in 2001 when Gov. George Pataki was given authority during an October session.


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