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Seneca Nation marks 20-year anniversary of casino deal with New York

It's been a bumpy relationship between the state and Seneca Nation as they prepare for potentially difficult negotiations on a new gaming compact for 2023.

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — It's a 20-year anniversary for the Seneca Nation and State of New York since they joined together to sign a deal to allow the start of casino gaming.

But it's been a bumpy relationship between the two as they set the stage for potentially difficult negotiations on a new gaming compact for 2023.

The video seems dated from the New Year's Eve 2002 start of casino gambling as the Seneca Gaming Corporation spent $100 million to convert the old Niagara Falls Convention Center for their gaming hall.

That investment has grown to $ 1.7 billion in the regional economy and 3,000 employees with expansion to Buffalo and Salamanca. And now they are projecting a renewed spirit in the "Stand With Senecas" slogan as they seek to replace the original gaming compact, which expires in 2023.

Seneca President Matthew Pagels told casino employees, area politicians, and other guests "that's the true measure of what we've accomplished for the last 20 years, and that is why we need a fair new compact."

But the Senecas and the state have feuded with the state, going after held-back revenue shares. There were lawsuits and various threats.

Eventually through legal action filed earlier this year state attorneys under Gov. Kathy Hochul were able to seize and freeze Seneca bank accounts. They eventually got back over $560 million. The Senecas in turn say the state broke their deal on exclusivity allowing new non-Seneca casinos.

2 On Your Side asked Pagels, "Does that also cast a bit of a pall over this situation as you go into these negotiations? Or do you feel you can kind of turn things around here?"

Pagels: We're as optimistic as we can be. There's no looking back. This is all about beyond 2023. So everything is moving forward.

Reporter: What about your relationship with Governor Hochul, who in essence will be trying to work this out with you, among others. Can you work with her again after considering everything that happened?

Pagels: She has put a team forward to meet with us, and we're going to see where that leads.

Pagels additionally points out: "What we agreed to 20 years ago has changed so drastically. The gaming landscape, dealing with our competitors, VLTs, racinos, all that has changed so drastically. Twenty years ago what we agreed to, at 25 percent in 2002, has materially changed, and we are going to prove that through negotiations."

Pagels also recognizes the state's decision to allow mobile sports betting, which this first year so far has brought in $226 million as of the end of May.

We also spoke with State Senator Sean Ryan and State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello about the pending compact talks. 

"Acrimony between the state and the sovereign nation, it's nothing new. But we have always been able to do is move on to the next issue," Ryan said.

Morinello pointed out: "They have been treated somewhat unfairly because of a lack of understanding of what the Seneca Nation means."

Both lawmakers hope for a new deal that can also help compensate host communities such as Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca adequately and perhaps spur more development. 

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino wants to see the state consult with them before talks begin to better determine their needs with their share of the casino revenue.

"We're on the front line here," Restaino said. "It's not just a matter of how does the revenue get divided up. For us it's infrastructure, it's services. There's a lot of things that are impacted."

He also hopes for a new compact process which avoids some of the past issues and allows for a better resolution of differences between the Senecas and the state. 

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