BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN/AP) - State and Seneca Indian Nation leaders have announced a deal to resolve a long-running dispute over western New York gambling rights and revenue.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. say Thursday that $630 million in payments withheld by the tribe after it said the state broke an agreement granting it exclusive gambling rights will be divided up between three cities with Seneca casinos, the state and the tribe.
They say financially-strapped Niagara Falls will get $89 million, Salamanca $34.5 million and Buffalo $15.5 million. It wasn't initially known how the balance will be divided between the state and tribe.
|Who got the best deal in the casino agreement?|
|New York State|
|( 29% )|
|Seneca Indian Nation|
|( 35% )|
|A good deal for both!|
|( 37% )|
The deal reaffirms the Senecas' exclusivity rights, but allows three non-Indian racetrack "racinos" in the region to continue operating as long as they don't bill themselves as casinos.
.The agreement comes a day after Snyder flew to Albany for a final round of talks over the Senecas' contention that the state had violated terms of a contract under which the Senecas operate three casinos in western New York.
"It was a legitimate disagreement from the Senecas' point of view," Cuomo said. "I always believed they had a significant point, that the state had violated the agreement, and I believe they had a bona fide bone of contention with state."
The Senecas said the placement of video lottery terminals inside three non-Indian racetracks, which then marketed themselves as casinos, violated a clause in the contract guaranteeing the Senecas exclusive rights to operate casinos in the region.
As a result, Seneca leaders in 2009 began withholding the state's promised share of slot machine revenues, part of which was to go to Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, where the Seneca casinos operate.
Thursday's agreement gives the cities full back pay. Also, the state will receive about $408 million and the Senecas will retain $209 million in withheld revenues and resume making regular annual payments to the state.
"We can move forward as two sovereigns to get a lot more business done," Snyder said.
The racetracks will continue to operate but western New York will be off-limits to future casinos that might be built as the state moves to legalize casinos off Indian land.
The financial windfall was welcome news to Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, whose city has struggled to pay for its hospital, schools, tourism promotion and keep up roads without its share of casino profits. He called it one of the happiest days of his life and thanked residents for "not going crazy" and throwing off negotiations.
The agreement with the Senecas was the third deal Cuomo has struck with an Indian nation in recent weeks to keep competition away from existing casinos in exchange for settling lingering disputes.
After quick agreements with the Oneidas and Mohawks, things hadn't initially gone as smoothly with the Senecas. Snyder last month called Cuomo a bully — something Cuomo reminded Snyder about Thursday, Snyder said.
"I said, 'Governor, if someone called me a bully, it would be a compliment,'" Snyder said.
The St. Regis Mohawks, which have withheld $59 million since 2010 in a similar dispute, signed an agreement with the state last month to preserve their exclusive casino territory in northern New York while paying the state $30 million in gambling proceeds that have been withheld.
The accord also opened the door to negotiations with the state and counties over Mohawk land claims near their reservation along the Canadian border.
Under the agreement with the Oneidas, the central New York tribe will receive exclusive territory for its Turning Stone casino and the state will get a cut of casino revenue. Also, local tax and land disputes would be resolved.