By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY-- Seneca Nation of Indians President Barry Snyder was meeting Tuesday with lawmakers at the Capitol to build support for the western New York tribe's gaming compact as it remains in a dispute with the Cuomo administration.
Snyder told Gannett's Albany Bureau that he's hopeful the meeting with lawmakers and legislative leaders will better present the tribe's side as it continues in arbitration hearings with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"We just want the state of New York to honor the compact, which was an agreement between us and the state of New York," Snyder said as he walked between meetings. "And that's basically what we're here for, to keep the compact intact. The compact is a good compact, and I think it's good for us and good for the state."
The Senecas, which run three casinos in western New York, have withheld more than $550 million in revenue to the state because it believes its gaming compact has been breached by the existence of three racetracks with video-lottery terminals in their exclusivity zone.
The compact was signed in 2002 as part of a major expansion of gambling in New York under then-Gov. George Pataki.
In recent weeks, Cuomo has reached deals with the two other tribes that have gaming compacts-the Oneidas in central New York and the Mohawks in northern New York. Yet the Senecas and Cuomo have yet to reach an agreement. The sides were expected to meet privately Tuesday.
"If we can talk with the governor and make a deal, that's fine. But if we can't, that's what we are here for today," Snyder said.
The Senecas' exclusivity stretches through the Rochester area and the Finger Lakes, and the Senecas have been rumored to be eying a casino in that area if it settles its dispute with the state.
Snyder downplayed that possibility, saying the tribe's focus is only on settling its disagreement with the state.
"I don't want people to misconstrue what we are here for. We're hear to talk about the validity of our compact we have now with the state," Snyder said. "And we're talking about there is a violation and it's in arbitration. We want to finish arbitration."
Cuomo is seeking legislative approval this year to build up to seven privately owned casinos in the state, with the first three to be built upstate. Cuomo has said that the casinos would not be built in areas with Indian casinos if the tribes are in good standing with the state.
So with the deals with the Oneidas and Mohawks, the tribes have gained gaming exclusivity in their regions. The Senecas would also retain their exclusivity in western New York, if they react a deal with the state, Cuomo has said.
If the Senecas and Cuomo come to terms, it would leave only three areas of the state open for the development of the three casinos: the Southern Tier, the Capital Region and the Catskills. The selections would be make by a panel selected by Cuomo and legislative leaders.