By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the Seneca Nation of Indians an ultimatum: Resolve the dispute with the state or Western New York will be fair game for a non-Indian casino.
Cuomo said that Western New York would be listed as a possible location for a new casino in his plan to expand gaming upstate if the Senecas do not resolve the dispute with the state over the exclusivity clause in the 2002 gaming compact between the parties by the end of the legislative session on June 20. Cuomo made the comments during a question and answer session after discussing details of his plan for casino expansion during a tourism summit in Albany.
"The answer at one point is either yes or no," Cuomo said in reference to negotiating a settlement with the Senecas. "I'm a patient person. I'll talk as long as you want to talk. But, at one point the decision factors aren't going to change."
A Cuomo press officer provided the Gazette with an audio recording of the press conference.
Attempts to reach representatives from the Senecas were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.
The dispute went to an arbitration panel last year and lawmakers have repeatedly said they expect that process to wrap up by mid-year.
Cuomo aims to complete his plan in time for legislators to vote on it during this session so that it can be put to the polls in a referendum in November.
The governor needs to know what regions will be eligible for non-Indian casinos before he can present a plan, he said.
"For the legislation to work we need certainty and we need closure," Cuomo said. "We're going to need to know what we're doing in those regions."
Niagara Falls is owed over $60 million of the approximately $600 million that the Senecas have withheld from the state since the dispute began in 2009. The Indian tribe contends that "racinos" in the exclusivity zone provide gaming that violates the contract.
The state will honor contracts with Indian tribes that are "in good standing," according to a press release from Cuomo's office.
"If the compact is not in good standing, the region would be eligible for a commercial (non-Indian) gaming resort," according to the release.
Mayor Paul Dyster said he still hopes for a negotiated settlement between the parties, and Cuomo's ultimatum could help accelerate a deal.
On top of Cuomo's June 20 deadline, the arbitration process is expected to end shortly, Dyster said.
"If there is going to be a negotiated settlement it has to happen soon," Dyster said. "I still believe a negotiated settlement is the best option."
Cuomo's plan involves a "non-political independent process" for choosing casino locations, according to the press release.
Dyster said that if the dispute is not settled and Niagara Falls becomes eligible for a non-Indian casino, he believes the city's tourism assets would make it a good candidate.
"I would certainly think that Niagara Falls would be on the short list," the mayor said.
City Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said he hopes Cuomo's threat works to get the city its money quickly, but feels that someone - either the Senecas or the state - should have been paying host communities throughout the dispute.
"We're just caught in the middle," Choolokian said. "I think they forgot about us."
Any action that brings on a resolution will be welcome, Choolokian said.
"It's gone on too long," Choolokian said. "I just wish we'd get our money."Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257