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Seneca Gaming Dispute Goes From Simmer To Boil

9:21 AM, Sep 15, 2012   |    comments
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Seneca Niagara Casino, Niagara Falls, NY

NIAGARA FALLS, NY - The recent suggestion by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster that the city -due to a dispute over gaming revenues-- may eventually no longer provide fire protection to the Seneca Niagara Casino, has prompted a fiery response from the President of the Seneca Nation.

WEB EXTRA: Click to read Seneca Nation President Porter's Letter to Niagara Falls Mayor Dyster

The Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel is located on land entirely within the city, turned over to the Seneca Nation to create a sovereign territory in order to facilitate gambling.

Dyster's remarks came because of a long simmering dispute between the Seneca and New York State over gaming revenues which shows no signs of being resolved in the immediate future, and which is crippling the city's finances.

The dispute is rooted in what the Seneca claim are violations of its gaming compact with the state to operate casinos exclusively in Western New York.

It began a few years back, when state-operated video gaming parlors at race tracks, commonly called "racinos", started advertising themselves as "casinos".

Whatever you want to call them, in the last 6 months alone, they have brought in $777 million in revenue for the state, not counting the taxes paid by those who play and win.

"As those slot parlors developed and they started getting bigger and bigger the Seneca were making noise about it and the state ignored their complaints about the violation of their exclusivity," John Kane, who hosts a radio talk show centered on Native American issues.

The Seneca responded by withholding money it agreed to pay the state from its casinos under the gaming compact a portion of which the state, in turn, was to share with host communities for the Seneca operated casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

The amount due has now exceeded $400 million....including the $60 million due Niagara Falls, which Dyster says has put the Cataract City on the brink of financial disaster.

"We're in the process of putting together a 2013 budget and it's very difficult. We're asking right now basically for a 'disaster' budget from every single department,t and what mean by that is what we would do if we had no ability to access casino revenues in 2013."

The Seneca initially proposed sending the shares due those host communities directly to them, while they worked out their differences with New York State.

The idea rejected by then Governor David Paterson.

By late last year, the Seneca moved for arbitration, where the dispute currently remains and where there is no indication by either side that it may be resolved any time soon.

The Cuomo administration recently indicated it would not oppose direct payments to Niagara Falls, but after Dyster's remarks regarding fire service, the Seneca might.

In his letter to Dyster, Porter wrote: "In the face of such hostilities from the City, I would be hard pressed to guess whether a future Nation Council would voluntarily provide local share funding as has been considered."

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher.

Click here to read Dave McKinley's latest blog.

Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2

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