Fight Over Casinos Needs To End

The dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state over casino exclusivity zones needs to end.

No more gimmicks. No more posturing. No more threats and finger pointing. No more mediation and accusatory news releases.

It’s time for the state and Senecas to lock themselves in a room and work through their differences once and for all.

To recap, the Senecas say the state violated the 2002 casino gaming compact by allowing video gaming at Off-Track Betting sites, like the ones in Hamburg and Batavia. In response, the Senecas began withholding proceeds from casino gambling in Seneca casinos to the state and the municipalities that host the casinos, prompting layoffs in Salamanca and millions of dollars in lost revenue. Add in state collection of cigarette taxes and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to place a non-Indian casino in Niagara Falls and you have a powder keg ready to explode. Now, the Buffalo News reports the Senecas are asking for rights to build a new casino in Rochester as part of mediated discussions to resolve the dispute.

The residents of Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties shouldn’t be held hostage any longer. After all, this dispute affects us. When the Senecas and state dicker back and forth over who should fix Interstate 86, it’s area residents left damaging their vehicles driving over crater-sized potholes in the road. When the Senecas get angry with the state and threaten to close access to I-86 and the state Thruway, area residents are the ones inconvenienced. When casino payments aren’t paid to area municipalities who have built that money into their budgets, Cattaraugus County and Salamanca residents are the ones losing municipal services they rely on.

It’s time for both sides to find a middle ground. The state must find a way to balance its budget while respecting existing agreements with the Senecas. The Senecas must move from their all-or-nothing positions when negotiating with the state. After all, if a private business withheld such payments – sales tax money, for example – it would result in criminal charges. The Senecas are being enabled to withhold state money it owes, all while standing behind treaties negotiated either centuries ago or compacts that simply aren’t workable now. A new deal needs to be struck.

In complex negotiations, neither side gets everything they want. It’s a lesson the Seneca Nation of Indians should have learned long ago.

Seneca leadership and Gov. Cuomo are adults.

It’s time they start acting like it.