By: John Campbell
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY, N.Y. - Gov. Andrew Cuomo is eyeing western New York-most likely Niagara Falls-as part of his plan to allow a limited number of non-Indian, Las Vegas-style casinos in the state.
The Buffalo News reported Sunday that the governor will soon propose a full-fledged, privately operated casino in Niagara Falls. A Cuomo administration official confirmed Sunday that the administration will recommend a western New York casino, but only if the state Gaming Commission finds a decade-old compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians to be invalid.
In his budget proposal last month, Cuomo proposed permitting three casinos upstate-defined as north of Putnam and Rockland counties-and allowing the new Gaming Commission to recommend specific locations. Cuomo would expand that number to four if the potential Niagara Falls casino is given the green light by the commission.
The Seneca Nation was granted exclusive rights in 2002 to operate three casinos west of Route 14, which runs south from Wayne County to the Pennsylvania border. The state and the Senecas have been locked in a dispute over the contract for the past several years, with the nation withholding more than $450 million in payments to the state in escrow in the meantime. The issue is currently in arbitration.
"I think the governor is very serious," State Senator George Maziarz (R-Newfane) said. "I have worked with the governor for the last couple of years and I think that he is very direct. I think he is getting exasperated by the non-payment."
The Gaming Commission formally launched this month and regulates gambling, lottery and racing in New York. Cuomo has five appointees on the seven-member board, but the board's full membership hasn't yet been unveiled.
If Cuomo's casino plan is to move forward, state lawmakers will have to again pass an amendment to the state's constitution, which would allow New York to regulate up to seven casinos statewide. After that, the public would have to approve it at the ballot box before taking effect.
A representative for the Seneca Nation could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
Cuomo last month the state would honor any casino-related agreements that are "in good standing," but did not say whether he considers the Seneca compact to be among them. After meeting with Cuomo last week, lawmakers said the number of casinos included in "phase one" of his gambling plan is "evolving."
When asked whether the Falls could support two casinos, Mayor Paul Dyster said it's possible.
"I think in the broader context, if the City of Niagara Falls continues to develop as a tourism destination, then that improves the prospects of all different types of tourism businesses, and it improves the prospects for the casino industry as well," Dyster said.
2 On Your Side contributed to this report.