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New Seneca casino in Rochester area now appears unlikely

(Photo from Pexels)

(Photo from Pexels)

New Seneca casino in Rochester area now appears unlikely

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Backlash from political leaders, rival gaming operators, union heads and citizens groups apparently has put the kibosh on a proposed casino in the Greater Rochester area.

The state Assembly wrapped up its 2023 legislative session on Thursday without voting on a bill that would have given the Seneca Nation the right to move forward with the creation of a full casino in the Rochester area.

Negotiations on a new gaming compact with the Seneca Nation will continue, the parties say, but a local casino apparently is no longer included. The current compact expires on Dec. 9.

“Our understanding is that negotiations are headed in the right direction, and recognizing the adverse impact on our community and current workforce, would potentially remove a Rochester area/Monroe County casino,” Assemblymembers Harry Bronson, Sarah Clark, Jennifer Lunsford and DeMond Meeks said in a joint statement released on Thursday evening.

The state Senate earlier this month passed a bill giving the governor’s office the right to finalize a new gaming compact with the Seneca. Part of the new compact, which reportedly was negotiated under a non-disclosure agreement, called for creation of a Seneca-owned casino in the Rochester area.

That revelation blindsided local legislators and government officials, who say they were never consulted. Together with religious leaders, social justice advocates and operators of del Lago Resort and Casino, Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack and Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel, the delegation denounced what was described as a backroom deal that would hurt, not help, the local economy.

“Not here, not today, not ever will we allow a process that silences the voice of the people, that robs the community of economic resources, of its political voice and of its social stability,” Rev. Kirsten John Foy, president and CEO of The Arc of Justice, said in a news release. “Nowhere can you point me to where a casino was dropped in the heart of a community and that community thrives as a result of it.”

Bronson was one of many political leaders to express opposition, saying the Rochester area has reached a saturation point in terms of casino gaming.

He also said last week that because the Seneca Nation would pay a far lower percentage of slot machine and table games revenue to the state than existing gaming facilities, the new casino would have a significant competitive advantage.

He said that advantage eventually would lead to a substantial decline in jobs and revenue to the state generated by the other three gaming facilities.

The Buffalo News reported that the Seneca Nation would pay just 9.5 percent of gaming revenue to New York for the first year of the 20-year compact, and 19.5 percent in the following 19 years. That’s down from the rate of 25 percent in the current compact.

Meanwhile, the state receives around 50 percent of the net win on video lottery terminals at Finger Lakes and Batavia Downs, and del Lago pays about 30 percent on slot revenue and 10 percent on table games. Also, as a public benefit corporation, Batavia Downs shares profits with 15 surrounding counites, as well as the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

Seneca Nation president Rickey Armstrong Sr. said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon that it is imperative a new compact be finalized.

“The Seneca Nation negotiated with the state’s negotiating team over the last several days to come to an agreement on new compact terms while the Assembly was still in session,” Armstrong said in a prepared statement. “If the Assembly was willing to take up the legislation, the Nation was willing to make significant concessions from our previous agreement in principle. Unfortunately, we were not able to arrive at a revised agreement that met the needs of the Seneca people while also addressing the concerns of the Assembly and the Executive Office.

“It is disappointing that this important work was not completed before the legislature adjourned. However, Assembly leadership has indicated a willingness to return to Albany once the Nation and the State are able to finalize fair terms for a new compact. That remains our goal.”

Armstrong said a new compact must reflect the realities of today’s gaming market while helping to ensure economic stability for the Nation.

In response, the joint statement from Rochester-area Assemblymembers said, “We fully appreciate the Seneca Nation’s desire to get a fair gaming compact. We share a common goal in seeking to identify an economic opportunity that will have long-lasting impact and are grateful the Seneca Nation has indicated a willingness to continue negotiations so we have the opportunity to reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial to the needs of the state, involved localities and the Seneca.”

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