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Seneca Nation demands NY Gov. Kathy Hochul strike ‘fair’ gambling deal after years of controversy

ALBANY – Gov. Kathy Hochul faces increasing pressure from the Seneca Nation to ink a “fair” deal to protect its gambling interests in Western New York following a series of controversies.

“We hear a lot of words coming from Albany about ‘New York values, social equality, health care as a human right, housing for all,’ but our people do not survive on words,” Tina Abrams, the senior member of the Seneca council, said Tuesday at a Capitol press conference.

“It is time for New York to honor its relationship with the Seneca Nation. It’s time for the state to complete fair negotiations with the Seneca.”

The Seneca are pushing legislation that could allow Hochul to reset her relationship with the tribe by renegotiating an expiring deal that grants the tribe the exclusive right to host gaming in much of Western New York.

With gambling options expanding statewide, the tribe remains particularly concerned about making sure no new casinos enter its longtime gambling territory bordered by Pennsylvania, Canada, and Route 12, which roughly bisects the Empire State from north to south – turf the pending bill explicitly protects.

“When you build a facility, and you spend $2.1 billion on this facility, you do it with the understanding that there is going to be some trust in your partner,” Odie Porter, a member of the Seneca Council, said.

“Exclusivity keeps the investments going.”

Kathy Hochul
James Messerschmidt for NY Post

Hochul has faced heat over her relationship with Seneca rival Delaware North – which employs her husband Bill Hochul – despite both Hochuls recusing themselves from matters directly involving the international company, which has casino operations, and the state.

“I am recused. Recused means being not involved in negotiations day to day or in the long term. I am not involved. That is something I set up long ago, it was important to assure people that the process will have the integrity that’s required and remove any doubt as to whether or not that’s going to happen,” Hochul told reporters in Buffalo on Tuesday when asked about extending the Seneca compact.

“So I feel comfortable that it’s being managed by other people.”

But trust between the Hochul administration and Native Americans remains elusive given the complicated relationship between the state and the Seneca in particular in recent years.

Jeffrey Gill
Zach Williams / NY Post

The governor notoriously froze Seneca bank accounts in 2021 to seize $564 million following a longtime dispute over gambling revenues the federal courts had ruled were owed to the state – money Hochul used to help fund a controversial new stadium for The Buffalo Bills.

“What the governor did was literally putting politics over people. She impacted not only the Seneca Nation with access to healthcare prescription medication. She also impacted 5,000 jobs, most of which are non-Seneca, that work in our casinos,” then-Seneca President Matthew Pagels told Spectrum News in November while accusing her administration of holding up talks.

“It will never be forgotten what happened.”

The Seneca Nation opened its second casino location May 1, 2004, on the Allegany indian Reservation in Salamanca.

Native American groups have also criticized Hochul for vetoing legislation in 2022 that would have increased protections for Indian burial sites, The New York Times in March.

And the ongoing delay with renewing the gambling compact has angered has fed suspicions since last Fall that the Hochul administration was not negotiating in good faith.

Six months later, time is running out for the Seneca as they continue pressing the Hochul administration on extending the compact.

“It’s time to stay with Seneca. If you’re truly for jobs and economic impact, then it’s time to stand with Seneca. If you truly believe in quality housing for all, then it’s time to stand with Seneca. If you honestly believe in access to quality health care, then it’s time to stand with Seneca. If you believe that after what history has shown us that native people finally deserve fair and equitable treatment. Then it’s time to stand with Seneca,” Abrama said.

“The clock is ticking.”