New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (Photo by Diana Robinson for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Flickr/Creative Commons)
The Seneca Nation argues the arbitration over its casino payments to the state and the state’s maintenance of the decrepit stretch of the Thruway that runs through Seneca lands in Chautauqua County should be treated as two separate issues.
“The only reason that the state repeatedly turns a blind eye to its obligation to repair the deteriorating condition of the portion of the Thruway crossing our Cattaraugus Territory is pure, simple political retribution,” says Seneca Nation President Rickey L. Armstrong Sr.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is “playing politics with the safety of the traveling public,” Armstrong Sr. continued.
Gov. Cuomo has said the state will not repair the poor roads because it might give the Seneca Nation of Indians leverage not to pay the $255 million in casino revenue that New York claims it owes the state and local governments.
“I don’t want to give them a reason to say New York breached the agreement by coming onto I-90 when they had no right to come onto I-90. That could actually jeopardize our position on the revenues,” Cuomo said during a news conference Tuesday.
After the Seneca Nation fulfilled its 14-year obligation to the state of New York in late 2016, the Tribe ceased making its $100 million-a-year casino revenue payments. But in April, two members of a three-person arbitration panel ruled that the Tribe must reinstate its payments, and that it owes New York $255 million in unpaid casino revenue.
The Senecas subsequently requested an opinion from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which notified the Nation in June that it needs more information before making a decision regarding the Tribe’s casino revenue-sharing payments with the state.
The Seneca Nation operates casinos in three New York communities: Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo. Since the Seneca Nation began its gaming operations in 2002, the Nation has sent more than $1 billion in revenue share contributions to the state of New York. The Tribe never agreed to revenue sharing payments beyond the 14-year term specified in its Tribal-state compact.
Gov. Cuomo argues otherwise:
“We went through arbitration. We want them to honor their part of the bargain. I’m not going to act in bad faith even though I believe they’re acting in bad faith,” the governor said. “We’re in the courts with them. When we settle the larger issue on the revenues, I believe the I-90 issue will be resolved. I don’t believe it’s about I-90; I believe it’s about the tens of millions of dollars that are actually in dispute.”
The Seneca Nation sees road safety as an entirely separate priority from resolving its arbitration over casino revenue-sharing with New York.
“The governor’s comments make it very clear that he is holding one issue hostage to the other,” Armstrong Sr. stated.