Niagara Gazette — Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. and Mayor Paul Dyster at the Seneca Niagara Casino to announce the delivery of funds from the negotiated settlement between the parties.
Cuomo visited Niagara Falls Wednesday to accept payment from the Seneca Nation of Indians and to give the city its cut of the money withheld during the gaming compact dispute between the state and Senecas. The Senecas stopped making payments to the state in 2009 because, they argued, the state had violated the exclusivity clause in the compact by placing gaming devices in state-run race tracks within the exclusivity zone and marketed those race tracks as casinos.
Cuomo said the state and Senecas had "wasted four years" arguing, but could now continue to build a fruitful relationship going forward.
"I think it's a new day in Niagara Falls," Cuomo said. "I think it's been a new day for Western New York and I think today is just emblematic of it."
Cuomo said that Niagara Falls leadership "paid the price" during the disagreement despite their lack of involvement in the events that lead to the dispute.
Dyster and the city council had "risen to the occasion" when faced with budget issues related to the stoppage of casino revenue payments, Cuomo said.
"Somehow they made ends meet," he added. "They managed to go on and run the city although it was extraordinarily difficult."
Cuomo joined Snyder, Dyster and other elected officials in Niagara Falls on June 15 to announce that the state and the Senecas had reached an agreement. The state agreed to forfeit $209 million of what it was owed as part of the negotiated settlement, but paid the host communities of Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca the full amounts that had been withheld from the cities.
Two giant checks were exchanged during the Wednesday morning press event with Snyder first handing Cuomo a check for $349 million before Cuomo handed Dyster the $89 million check.
Snyder said the settlement represents a new promise from the Senecas and the state to work together to grow the economy of Western New York.
"On behalf of the Seneca Nation we appreciate the governor's continued commitment to the economic revitalization of Western New York, and recognizing the Seneca Nation's gaming enterprise as an important component for continuation of our region's growth and transformation," Snyder said. "I stand here committed to uphold the terms of our agreement, protect our nation's sovereignty rights and to continue to grow our gaming business."
Snyder said that the Senecas and the state have learned to communicate with one another through the dispute which will help the two entities avoid any disagreements over the compact in the future.
"We have conflicts and debates, but in the end we have to work together to move our future forward as one," Snyder said.
Dyster, who drove back from his family's cabin in the southern tier to attend the press conference, said the city suffered economically because of the dispute.
"Tens of millions of dollars that had been budgeted for our schools, our roads, our infrastructure had been held back because the state and Senecas couldn't reach common ground," Dyster said. "A very, very difficult time, but somehow we got through it."
Dyster said Cuomo has fought for Western New York and that his success in reaching a compromise with the Senecas to end the dispute - which lasted over 40 months and began before Cuomo was elected governor - is a sign of the progress being made in the region.
"You can feel the new energy here," Dyster said. "It's a positive energy we haven't felt in years."
The city will avoid a looming fiscal crisis that would have seen Niagara Falls cut jobs or services in order to pay its bond debt if the city had not seen the casino revenues before fall. City lawmakers and members of Dyster's administration repeatedly asked him to produce a plan for what the city would do if the casino dispute remained stalled, but he insisted that the dispute would end before the city's cash flow issues would come to a head.
Dyster's predictions that the dispute would be settled by mid-year were validated with the June announcement.
Dyster's administration will now distribute $23.5 million to the entities - Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., the Niagara Falls School District, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Commission - that receive casino revenues through the city.
In addition the city will repay $22.7 million to the general fund and $15.7 million to the tribal revenue and tourism fund that the city borrowed from those accounts during the dispute.
Dyster said the city will move to distribute those funds quickly.
"We promised to expeditiously deliver the funds to them and that's just about our first priority," Dyster said.Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257