Cuomo Plays Hardball with Seneca Nation Tells President Snyder 'Pay Up or Compete' By Enos T. Throop

In his drive to bring casino gambling to New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo is playing hardball with the Seneca Nation. Cuomo is supporting a constitutional amendment that would allow for seven new Las Vegas-style casinos in the Empire State. If the amendment passes muster with voters in November of 2013, the Governor has signaled that it is his intention to site the first three casinos upstate.

The Governor's definition of "upstate" includes New York's faded Catskills resort area. Importantly, Assembly Speaker Sheldon 'Shelly' Silver has long supported the idea of a casino there, so most insiders see a Catskills casino as a likely eventuality.

But "upstate" also means Western New York, so Governor Cuomo met recently with Seneca Nation president, Barry E. Snyder Sr., who insisted on attending the private sit-down without his lawyers, advisors or other tribal members. The Governor was blunt: if the Nation does not pay the state the hundreds of millions of dollars in disputed in cigarette tax monies the Seneca Nation is supposedly holding in escrow while fighting in court with the State over the money, the State will site a Las Vegas-style casino in Western New York.

"A new casino in Western New York would crush the Seneca's antiquated facility. It just doesn't compare to the quality of casinos today," said a senior gaming analyst who asked to remain anonymous.

Furthermore, the Seneca Nation Gaming Compact is up for renewal in two years, which essentially negates any argument by the Senecas that the constitutional amendment allowing casinos violates the exclusivity promised in the compact executed with the Senecas by Governor George Pataki. Cuomo can simply refuse to re-negotiate a new compact and essentially close the Senecas down.

The same veteran gaming analyst - who has worked on Wall Street for 25 years - also doubts Cuomo's push for casinos will generate the kind of job boom by 2016 that he needs to mount a presidential bid. "Andrew Cuomo can't run for president if the unemployment rate in New York State is well above the national average," said the analyst. "The fastest way to generate jobs and revenues would be by siting the seven new casinos at the State's current pari-mutuel racetracks such as Yonkers and Aqueduct. These locations already have legalized gambling, they have the parking, traffic access and infrastructure for immediate expansion. Gaming could be fully expanded within two years."

The Cuomo family has always enjoyed a warm relationship with the Oneida Indian Nation and their leader, Ray Halbritter, operators of the Turning Stone casino outside Rochester. The Oneida were originally granted the right to conduct casino gambling by Governor Andrew Cuomo's father, Governor Mario Cuomo. It is unlikely that a casino would be sited in the Rochester area.

A recent Quinnipiac Poll showed narrow majority support for the casino amendment proposal. World Resort New York City, the racino at Aqueduct, has generated $667.7 million in net sales demonstrating the pent-up market for casino gambling in New York City.

"I am not sure who would bid on building a world class casino in upstate New York or in the Catskills," said the analyst. "The great bulk of potential revenue and customers are in New York City, its nearbyy suburbs and Long Island. No one thinks a casino in Manhattan is a good idea, but at least one casino should serve the New York City market if the State is going to realize the revenues and job creation they envision."

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