Niagara Gazette — Seneca Nation of Indians President Barry Snyder Sr. on Friday issued a statement in response to comments linked earlier in the week to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who suggested the state of New York may soon end its gaming relationship the Senecas.
Snyder characterized Cuomo's comments as "another symptom of the unfortunately strained relationship" between the two parties, saying Cuomo has "yet again" chosen a path of "playground bully tactics rather than one of maturity, dignity and mutual respect."
Snyder's statements followed Cuomo's assertion on Thursday that the state may not extend the Seneca Nation's gaming compact, which expires in 2016. Cuomo, citing the Indian nation's decision to suspend payments of slot machine revenues owed to both the state and host municipalities like Niagara Falls, said "under the circumstances" he found it difficult to believe "any state official" would support extending the terms of the current deal.
The comments came during an event in which Cuomo announced that the state has reached an agreement with the Oneida Indian Nation that will allow it to enjoy exclusive gaming rights in Central New York in exchange for settling an outstanding land claim and paying the state 25 percent of slot revenues from Turning Stone Casino.
In his statement released Friday, Snyder suggested Cuomo's comments amounted to a threat against workers who are currently employed at Seneca-owned casinos in Western New York.
"Apparently, he fails to see the error of his ways lauding job creation and stability throughout the state while at the same time threatening the economic security of thousands of hard working families in Western New York employed by the Nation or its vendors," Snyder said.
Snyder, citing sections 11, 12 and 17 of the Compact, said it is the state's responsibility to compensate host communities like Niagara Falls and Salamanca, both of which are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the lost slot machine revenue.
Snyder said that in the event of a breach of the compact by the state, which the nation says has happened in light of state-run "racinos" operating in its Western New York exclusivity zone, the nation's obligation to make payments and the state's right to receive them "shall cease immediately." Snyder contends the end of payments as a result of the alleged breach "shall not effect the validity of any other provisions" of the Compact.
"Simply put, it’s the state’s obligation to pay the local communities," Snyder said. "Rather than showing leadership on this issue and paying the local governments, the governor has brought the cities of Niagara Falls and Salamanca to the brink of a financial ruin."
Both the state and the Senecas are currently involved in an arbitration process that is expected to produce some type of resolution to the dispute.
"The Seneca Nation has acted in good faith and negotiated diplomatically but we continue to experience over and over the childish antics of the state’s top leader and his advisor," Snyder said.
Following the release of Snyder's statement on Friday, Mayor Paul Dyster said that while the Seneca Nation President's words were stern, he feels a negotiated settlement between the Senecas and state is a strong possibility.
"It's not surprising that when you have two strong leaders trying to represent the interests of their people strong language is going to be used," Dyster said. "I feel a negotiated settlement is a possibility, despite the harsh rhetoric of the last couple days."
Dyster said he sees Cuomo's deal with the Oneidas after decades of negotiations as a positive sign.
"If there is a solution to be found, they're going to find it," Dyster said. "Oftentimes, things have to come to a crisis before the moves can be made to negotiate."