Current compact to expire next year

New York: Senecas seeking "fair" updated compact with the state to address changing gaming landscape

Matthew Pagels, Seneca Nation President.
Reading time 3:28 min

As the Seneca Nation and the State of New York reach the 20th anniversary since they signed a deal to allow the tribe to host casino gaming, Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels said during a press conference on Wednesday that he's looking for a "fair, new" gaming compact with the state.

Pagels argues the gaming landscape has changed "drastically" since the Nation obtained exclusive rights from the state to operate three casinos in Western New York. Their current gaming compact is set to expire in December 2023.

At the conference, Pagels pointed out an expansion of casinos in New York outside the Nation's exclusivity territory and said this was having an impact on operations at the Seneca Niagara, Buffalo Creek, and Seneca Allegany casinos. He mentioned both the Del Lago Resort & Casino in the Finger Lakes region and Tioga Downs Casino Resort, located in Nichols, as two newer casinos that were opened with state lawmakers' approval in recent years.

He also noted the increased availability of video lottery terminals (VLTs) at racinos, including Batavia Downs Gaming. "That’s pulling from our market," Pagels said of New York’s expanded casino business, according to the Niagara Gazette.

Matthew Pagels, Seneca Nation President

Seneca Nation spokesperson Phil Pantano said his research shows there were 10 casinos across New York, the states of Connecticut, West Virginia, Rhode Island, and the province of Ontario in Canada when Seneca Niagara Casino opened in 2002. However, as of today, there are more than 50. "The landscape has exploded," he noted.

Moreover, the rise in online gaming, an expansion that has been embraced by New York state lawmakers in recent years, has also affected the Seneca Nation’s gaming operation, according to Pagels, who said that the tribe's brick-and-mortar sites have "definitely seen an impact."

The current gaming compact between the Seneca Nation and New York State was first issued in 2002 and calls for 25% of slot revenues to be shared with the state, to be distributed to host casino cities: Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Salamanca. Although last year he was quoted saying that the revenue sharing figures were "unrealistically high," Pagels did not specify whether the Nation would enter negotiations expecting to pay less to the state under a new gaming agreement.

Casino Niagara during the press conference on Wednesday

According to Pagels, the Nation has met with representatives of the state to discuss a potential schedule for talks but no details have been discussed yet. Additionally, a spokesperson for Gov. Hochul’s office said Wednesday that staff at the executive chamber and state gaming commission have begun preliminary negotiations with the Seneca Nation.

When asked how he felt generally about entering into negotiations, Pagels said they were "as optimistic as we can be," despite an aggressive move in April by Gov. Kathy Hochul to freeze the tribe’s bank accounts through a subpoena, in an effort to coerce the nation to pay overdue slot machine revenue. At the time, the decision was harshly criticized by the Senecas. 

"We are confident that the process will continue in a way that best serves New Yorkers," the governor’s office has now said in a new statement, according to the Niagara Gazette

About the pending compact talks, State Senator Sean Ryan told WGRZ that "acrimony between the state and the sovereign nation, it's nothing new. But what we have always been able to do is move on to the next issue". Meanwhile, State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello said that the Nation has been "treated somewhat unfairly because of a lack of understanding of what the Seneca Nation means."

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said he wants to see the state consult with them before talks begin to better determine their needs with their share of the casino revenue. "We're on the front line here," Restaino stated, according to WGRZ. "It's not just a matter of how does the revenue get divided up. For us it's infrastructure, it's services. There's a lot of things that are impacted."

Both lawmakers, as well as the Mayor, hope for a compact process that will allow for a better resolution of differences between the Nation and the State, as well as boost development.

Since the start of casino gambling in 2002, the Seneca Gaming Corporation has had a total economic impact across Western New York of more than $1.7 billion, when expenses tied to construction, vendors, and other aspects of the gaming business are factored in. Furthermore, the Nation's three casinos employ more than 3,000 workers across the region.