Niagara Gazette

August 15, 2013

Casino cash expected soon

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The casino revenues are on their way.

City officials told the Niagara Gazette that a payment of $87.9 million from the state was listed as pending in the vendor portal, a website that allows cities to track payments from the state of New York. As a result, city officials said the money should arrive in a city account within a few business days.

Niagara Falls Controller Maria Brown said she has been checking the site every day - if not every few hours - since Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the Falls on July 31 to attend a check-passing press event held at the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel.

"I am so thankful the money is here," Brown said.

City officials - particularly in Brown's office - were pushed to the brink by the four-year dispute between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians.

The Senecas stopped making casino revenue payments to the state in 2009 as it had under the terms of a gaming compact signed in 2002. They contended the state violated the compact by placing gaming machines in race tracks and marketing so-called "racinos" as casinos within the Western New York exclusivity zone outlined in the agreement.

As a result, the state stopped paying the host communities of Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

The host cities all received a "good faith" payment of $1 million on Aug. 3, but have been waiting on the rest of the money since, Brown said.

Once the full amount arrives, Mayor Paul Dyster has said his administration plans to repay money the city borrowed from its own accounts and pass money through to other entities - including Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and the Niagara Falls School District - that receive casino revenues under the gaming agreement.

Brown said after all repayments are issued the city will have about $25 million left, which will be used to return to the five-year capital plan from Dyster's administration.

Those plans do not involve any administrative or operational costs, as the city is barred from using casino funds for those purposes. The allocation of the funds will be an open process and the capital plan will be presented to the city council, Brown said.

"Every dollar of casino money needs to be approved by city council," Brown said.

Dyster said the June announcement of the end to the casino cash dispute "lifted the weight" off the shoulders of city officials because they knew they would be paid in the coming months.

And now money will arrive - transferred electronically - any day.

"This is the actual implementation of what we knew was going to happen," Dyster said.

Without an end to the resolution - something Dyster maintained would happen by mid-year despite concerns raised by city council members and members of his own administration - the city would have run into cash flow issues this fall.

Dyster said passing payments through to the entities that have been waiting since the end to the dispute was announced, including the hospital, school district and others - will be a top priority once the funds show up.

The city knows what it feels like to be waiting on a payment, Dyster said.

"We have a responsibility to pay the other stakeholders that are recipients," Dyster said. "We're going to try and make sure the funds are delivered to them as soon as possible after they are delivered to our account."

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257