By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed non-Indian casinos in upstate New York during a speech outlining his plans for the state on Thursday.
What he didn’t mention was the ongoing dispute between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians and the plans for a non-Indian casino right next to the Seneca Niagara Gaming Complex discussed in the press earlier this month.
When asked about rumors of a casino in the Cataract City after the speech, the deft Cuomo gave the same non-committal answer that he did a few months back.
“In parts of the state where we have contractual agreements in good standing we will honor those agreements, primarily with the Indian-run casinos” Cuomo said. “But, the agreements have to be in good standing, which means that the agreements have to be honored by both parties.”
Rumors that the governor was prepared to allow for another casino in the Falls – effectively ensuring no new gaming compact between the state and the Senecas would come about – were circulated in Albany earlier this month and reported by the Buffalo News.
While Cuomo would not confirm the rumors he would not deny the possibility of a new casino for the Falls.
"Everything is still on the table," he said.
The state and the Senecas have been embroiled in a dispute over the exclusivity clause in the 2002 gaming compact for three years. The Senecas argue that state-run “racinos” that exist in the exclusivity zone in Western New York violate the contract and stopped paying the state in 2009. The two parties have entered a binding arbitration which is expected to be settled in the first half of this year.
Cuomo said he doesn’t want to see the state held to an agreement that is not being honored by the Senecas and that the arbitration should play out “over the next few months.”
So the city of Niagara Falls, which included over $7 million in its adopted budget to pay for bonded debt service and to repay the special projects fund, will have to hope that the governor is right.
If the arbitration is not settled by the time those payments come due this summer the city will have to find another revenue source to pay its bills.
Mayor Paul Dyster said he has been in close consultation with high-ranking state officials who have given him every reason to believe that the city will be paid the $60 million that has been withheld from Niagara Falls since the dispute began.
“Our understanding is that the arbitration will conclude by mid-year,” he said.
If there are issues with the arbitration that result in the money not reaching the city by the time that bills come due the city has several contingency plans as options, including a negotiated spin up of state aid from the New York Power Authority and short-term borrowing options, Dyster said.
“There’s not a single answer to this question,” the mayor added. “What there is, is a set of contingency plans to deal with the issue.”
Dyster has said time and again that he believes the best result in the dispute would be for the two sides to settle outside of court.
He feels Cuomo is using the threat of another casino as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Senecas. But Dyster's main concern is that the city gets what it was promised in exchange for a massive plot of downtown real estate given up as part of the compact, he said.
"The most important thing in all of this, and the governor knows this, is for Niagara Falls to get the money it is owed."