Seneca and New York state extend compact after intense negotiations

Seneca Niagara Casino exterior
Image: Shutterstock / JHVE Photo

The relationship between Seneca Nation and the state of New York has not been easy the past few years, but the two groups have managed to agree to terms to extend their gaming compact for another 20 years. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed with the announcement.

“Negotiating a fair Compact was critical to the future of the Seneca Nation and the future of Western New York,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. “Throughout months of negotiation, our focus remained on arriving at a fair deal that secured the future of our gaming operations, the vital funding our operations provide for critical services for our people, and the significant jobs and economic benefits they generate in Western New York. We made it clear that we would not settle for anything less.”

Next, both the Department of the Interior and the Seneca Nation at large will need to approve the terms of the deal and the state legislature will need to draft and pass a bill supporting the agreement. The compact is set to expire later next year.

The legislature is already taking some action related to the compact, as S7502 is a measure that would require the state comptroller’s office to review all gaming compacts.

The original compact, signed in 2002, hummed along nicely until 2016 before conflicts started to arise. Not long after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation allowing for commercial upstate casinos, Seneca Nation announced their interpretation of the agreement was that after 2016 the tribe no longer had to make payments to the city for the seven remaining years of the deal.

That decision led to an increasingly hostile negotiation with Cuomo that led to arbitration, which sided with Cuomo and said the tribe needed to pay the state the roughly $450 million in payments it had withheld. From that point, Seneca Nation sued the state, claiming the arbitration panel violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). District and appeals court judges sided with the state.

At the beginning of 2022, Seneca Nation dropped its suit and agreed to resume compact negotiations with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office. Hochul eventually recused herself from negotiations in March 2023 because her husband, William Hochul, works for Seneca competitor Delaware North. Two senior aides were named to finish the negotiations.

Prior to her recusal, Hochul had taken the Seneca payments, which totaled almost $565 million, and used them to help fund a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills where Delaware North held the concession rights.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement in principle on a fair compact between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York State that will serve the interests of both parties and benefit Western New York communities,” Hochul spokesman Matt Janiszewski said.