NIAGARA FALLS, NY – As they head toward arbitration, a war of words continues between the parties in a simmering dispute involving the State of New York and the Seneca Nation of Indians.
The Senecas have stopped payment on a revenue sharing plan as part of its gaming compact with the state, because the state failed to include a clause that would require further payments after the original compact expired.
The Cuomo Administration, which negotiated a renewal of the compact and apparently forgot to put the part about getting paid in the language, insists that the payments are still required.
“There’s been a long history of disputes with the agreements they make with the state, so this is nothing new." said Gov. Andrew Cuomo while in Niagara Falls on Thursday.
Seneca Nation President Todd Gates says the only thing that’s not new, is the Governor’s rhetoric and the state’s dishonoring of its agreements.
“The Seneca Nation has honored the terms of the Compact for 15 years. We have done this despite the State's history of Compact violations and ignoring the needs of the Seneca Nation. It is truly unfortunate and unhelpful that the Governor has decided to escalate his rhetoric in the media, while refusing to meet with us face to face for nearly six months,” Gates said in a statement.
Seneca sources say just a face-to-face meeting between Gates and Cuomo would be a sign of good faith which might help settle the dispute. One explained that if Cuomo took such a meeting, it would be seen as a sign that he respects the nation's sovereignty.
On Thursday, 2 On Your Side asked Cuomo if there were any reasons he will not meet with Gates.
“There have been a number of conversations,” Cuomo said. “I've had conversations with them personally, we've had conversation lawyer to lawyer, staff to staff, friend to friend…I've spoken to their leader."
But according to a well-placed source with knowledge of those conversations they amounted to two phone call's back in March, lasting a total of perhaps 90 seconds, and that since then, the Governor has canceled two scheduled meeting with Gates that had been set for July 29 and August 22.
“It is becoming increasingly clear, from the Governor's pattern of asking for then canceling meetings, he does not want to have a serious discussion,” Gates said.
“We see no desire on their part to live up to the agreement," Cuomo said.
Meanwhile, the dispute means host communities for Seneca gaming facilities, particularly the City of Niagara Falls, aren’t getting paid their cut of revenue as outlined under the original compact.
Niagara Falls has relied heavily on casino revenues to pay for projects and close budget gaps, a practice it has come under fire for by the office of the New York State Comptroller.
“Obviously it’s a great hardship,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who indicated he is still counting on casino revenue as part of his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year which he is due to present on October 1.
“We assert, as does the State of New York, our right to receive our legitimate share of casino revenue,” Dyster told 2 On Your Side.
However, despite his “assertion”, a draft audit of city finances by the Comptroller’s office warned the Dyster administration that casino revenue is the last thing the city should count on, given the ongoing dispute.