Published: June 12, 2023

New York: Rochester Leaders Scold New York State Officials for Secret Seneca Negotiations

Representatives for New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) office announced last week an “agreement in principle” with the Seneca Nation for a new, 20-year, Class III gaming compact. But after reports surfaced that part of the new casino contract includes a provision that allows the tribe to construct a Las Vegas-style casino in Rochester, city leaders there are scolding the state for its secret backroom dealing.

The Seneca Nation and Hochul’s office confirmed the gaming compact agreement that allows the tribe to operate slot machines and table games at its upstate New York properties. The tribe maintains the exclusive rights to slots and table games west of State Route 14.

Neither the Senecas nor Hochul provided specific details about the revenue-sharing agreement. However, sources close to the negotiations leaked information about the possibility of a Seneca casino coming to Rochester, something the tribe has long sought.

That riled Rochester government officials and state politicians who represent the city that sits on Lake Ontario. Rochester is home to approximately 210K people.

Rochester’s Response

Hochul’s agreement with the Seneca Nation requires approval from the New York State Assembly, but the governor is authorized to singlehandedly conduct the gaming compact negotiations. Hochul, however, designated two of her top aides to conduct the Seneca talks, as she’s recused herself since her husband, William Hochul, is a top executive with Delaware North, which operates racinos in upstate New York that directly compete with the Seneca properties.

The New York State Senate quickly approved a bill last week allowing the Hochul compact to proceed, but the bill stalled in the Assembly after the Rochester casino rumblings surfaced.

We have heard lots of chatter about the possibility of a casino license being granted in the Rochester area. It should be noted that neither city leadership nor members of our New York State delegation has been involved in any conversations related to this possibility. Any conversation of this magnitude that does not include local stakeholders is unacceptable,” said Rochester Mayor Malik Evans.

“There are already numerous casinos in the Rochester area,” Evans continued. “My focus remains on meaningful opportunities that create a vibrant Rochester economy focused on jobs.”

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello also weighed in.

“A matter as significant as the placement of a casino in Rochester should be discussed out in the open, in conversations that include members of our state delegation and local officials. It’s deeply troubling that this community has now been placed in this position of debating an issue without knowing the full details of what has been negotiated,” Bello declared.

Hochul Criticized

The Rochester City Council directed its comments directly to Hochul through a letter sent to her in Albany. City councilors lambasted her office for not including Rochester leaders in such critical discussions.

This past weekend we became aware that New York State is in conversations with the Seneca Nation about developing a casino in downtown Rochester. Our understanding of this proposed project is unclear, since the only information we have is through the media,” the Rochester City Council letter to Hochul read.

“This is not the first time there has been discussion about a Rochester casino,” the council letter continued. “Previous discussions demonstrated that casinos are polarizing, and there was a significant amount of local opposition.”

The Rochester City Council went on to request that if the media reports are true about the new compact authorizing a casino in Rochester, the compact negotiations be halted until the local public is consulted and allowed to submit opinions.

The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows federally recognized tribes to conduct Class I and II gaming on their sovereign lands. Those classes of tribal gaming don’t include slots and table games, but only games of chance like bingo and non-house-banked card games such as poker.

For Class III gaming — Las Vegas-style gambling — tribes must enter into compacts with their host states.

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