Governor Kathy Hochul has withdrawn herself from the negotiations of a new gaming agreement with the Seneca Nation and instead chose two senior associates to carry out the discussions.
Reportedly, Ms. Hochul has decided to excuse herself from the Seneca Nation gambling compact renewal negotiations because her husband, William Hochul, serves as senior vice president, secretary, and general counsel at the gambling and hospitality company that has an interest in two racinos that are direct rivals to the three casinos of the Seneca Nation. Two years ago, in 2021, the Governor of New York signed an agreement under which he had to recuse herself from making decisions on all issues associated with the aforementioned company, Delaware North.
However, the negotiations for the Native American tribe’s gaming compact have put all the participants in a unique situation because no one besides Governor Hochul can eventually sign off on a deal with the sovereign nation on behalf of the state.
The president of Seneca Nation, Rickey Armstrong Sr., shared that he believed there were two top aides in Ms. Hochul’s administration – Counsel Liz Fine and Director of State Operations Kathryn Garcia – who would be granted the final authority to negotiate the deal. According to him, the Governor would not be part of the negotiations but would merely sign the compact agreement negotiated by the aforementioned aides.
Mr. Armstrong, however, shared that Governor Hochul will likely not be able to fully excuse herself from the talks. According to him, the Governor would probably have some interaction with her aides on the issue, as she needs to eventually know what she signs.
The current compact of the tribe is set to expire at the beginning of December 2023.
Seneca Nation Negotiating New Gambling Compact with the State of New York
New York Governor’s Office confirmed that Ms. Hochul has delegated all negotiations to staff after deciding to recuse herself to a degree beyond the one required by law in an effort to restore the public’s faith in the state Government.
Hazel Crampton-Hays, the press secretary of Ms. Hochul, added that the negotiations between the Seneca Nation and the staff from the Executive Chamber and the state Gaming Commission have been ongoing for almost a year, and the two parties were fully committed to continuing to meet, discuss, and negotiate an agreement.
Seneca Nation officials have previously shared they sought a fair compact for a piece of land situated in close proximity to their Seneca Buffalo Casino in downtown Buffalo.
For months, representatives of the Native American tribe have been meeting with more junior aides of Governor Hochul, but direct discussions between the two senior aides of the Governor and Mr. Armstrong started earlier in May 2023. Considering the fact that the current legislative session in Albany is scheduled to close on June 8th, the Indian tribe remains hopeful that the state Legislature will manage to pass a piece of legislation allowing the Seneca Nation to ink a new gaming compact with the state of New York before that.
The agreement was originally signed in 2002 between the tribe and Governor George Pataki. Under the provisions of the agreement, the Nativ American tribe was given the exclusive right to offer slot machines and other gaming devices to residents of the New York State in its racinos in return for a portion of the revenues generated by these gambling devices.
However, the tribe believes that the three racinos that have started operation within the area violate its agreement with the state. As a result, in 2017 Seneca Nation started withholding payments worth hundreds of millions of dollars in slot machine profits, saying that the tribe was no longer required to continue making the payments under the gambling agreement. After three federal judges sided with the state and ruled against the Seneca Nation, Governor Hochul froze the tribe’s bank account in March last year – a move that triggered the Senecas to pay almost $565 million.