By Robert Restaino
Niagara Gazette — Over the past few weeks there have been various stories regarding the expansion of casino gaming in New York, to include non-Native American casinos throughout the state, a matter that requires second passage by the state legislature and then approval, by voters, of a state constitutional amendment — two very significant hurdles. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been most vocal in shaping the conversation, but one needs to carefully read the well-chosen phrases by our governor to clearly see the implications, if any, for Western New York generally and Niagara Falls specifically.
After the governor’s first declaration that “no new casinos would come to “Y” since the state would not violate contracts “with exclusivity geographically ... that are in good standing,” the governor then decided to declare that Niagara Falls could be a site for a new nonNative American casino.
Obviously, most observers have already determined that the governor is, as they say at the poker table, bluffing, and he has chosen the most recognizable spot in the state (after New York City) to draw the battle line. On the one hand, it is gratifying that the governor recognizes the value of Niagara Falls as a location, however this becomes another example of how the state uses Niagara Falls, and Western New York, without really trying to help. Wouldn’t the better course have been for the state to agree that the Senecas pay the host communities their share ($100 million dollars) while the dispute between the Senecas and the state is sorted out? This would take pressure off local governments in the host communities, which suffered greatly despite honoring their obligations. Or, perhaps, the state could pay the host communities their share, as happened in Salamanca, whose state representatives fought for the taxpayers they serve. On the other hand, our state representatives failed to bring this message to Albany and achieve results for their constituents, maybe it’s because of campaign donations they receive, or other perks they are given, who knows. That is why I refused to accept those offers. The Niagara Falls City Council asks a good question, “Who’s fighting for little Niagara Falls?“
Thankfully, most locals have not taken the bait left by the governor, despite state officials attempting to support the bluff. In reality, the exclusivity to Western New York, afforded the Seneca Nation of Indians, comes with the consent of the federal government. Any unilateral breach by New York state would likely put the federal government in the middle of the issue.
And what can we make of the phrase “contracts in good standing?” With the continuing arbitration between the state and the Senecas, that issue will be resolved by the arbitrator(s) not the governor’s Gaming Commission. No such unilateral determination can be made since the compact has specific provisions (as we are seeing played out) regarding the resolution of disputes. If New York has violated the compact the host communities will suffer the most; if the Senecas have violated the compact, overdue payments will be made. It really is that simple. Certainly the governor, as an attorney (who served exceptionally, as a tough no-nonsense attorney general) knows the limits of the arbitration process.
The political rhetoric behind the pronouncements of non-Native American casinos for New York are eerily reminiscent of other “promises” made by state officials, that have resulted in the diversion of revenues from natural resources in our communities, to the benefit of other areas downstate and outside of New York, while our state representatives stand by and do nothing.
Western New York should demand more than rhetoric from our governor and state representatives. We should demand the courage to do what is right, even it it is difficult. We should demand honesty, not trite sound bites. We should demand real solutions to the problems that confront many of the communities of Western New York, most especially in Niagara County, not empty rhetoric and photo opportunities.
For the casino host communities of Western New York, a good test will be the discussions over the extension of the current compact. Will we get the honesty and integrity we need in those discussions to protect our interest, or will political contributions to our representatives, and private deals leave us busted and broke? Who will fight for a larger share of the payments, separate payments for public safety services, and direct payments to the host communities, so they are no longer held hostage? If the current efforts by state leaders are any indication it will likely be “snake eyes” for us. Don’t settle for excuses, demand results.Robert Restaino is a Niagara Falls resident.