Seneca Nation

Senecas Recently Approved Management Agreement For Sportsbetting

From the Morning Memo:

As several news outlets have recently noted, the Seneca Gaming Corporation is seeking applicants for “sportsbook managers” and “sportsbook ticket writers” at its casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca.

The Senecas have said for several weeks they are making progress on their sports betting operation but have been reluctant to give a specific timeline on when things will be in place. Since the state Gaming Commission establishes regulations this summer, the other tribes as well as the four sanctioned non-Indian Upstate casinos have already launched their sportsbooks.

However, the Senecas don’t seem to feel a sense of urgency. President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. did not provide any opening dates when asked Wednesday. He did say the corporation recently approved its management agreement and it “should be coming up anytime soon here.” 

A Seneca spokesperson said they are still working through an external process. Their casinos will have a benefit others in Upstate do not.

They are in close proximity to two “Big 4” professional sports teams – the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres.

Documents Show Thruway Authority Reached Out To Senecas As Early As 2014

New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians have taken turns pointing fingers as to who is responsible for a badly-deteriorating section of the New York State thruway that runs through the reservation.

The state said the Senecas have refused to give permission for the Thruway Authority to enter sovereign territory and fix the road. The Senecas said they can’t seem to schedule a meeting with the authority to discuss their transportation needs.

Documents obtained by Spectrum News, at least appear to back up claims Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew Driscoll made, in a September 15 letter, the state has been trying to fix the road for more than five years.

“To put it mildly, we have been frustrated that multiple attempts to secure this permission – going back to written requests in May‎ 2014 and September 2017, and an attempt to raise this project again in a meeting this past January – were either met with silence or outright rejection by your Nation’s leadership,” Driscoll wrote to the Senecas this weekend.

2014

In a May 2014, NYSTA Environmental Specialist Thomas Moore wrote to Seneca Nation Transportation Project Coordinator Jody Clark requesting permission to initiate and complete a maintenance paving project on Interstate 90. Moore called the work a “stopgap” measure to correct severe pavement deficiencies in the short-term.

He said the state would continue to work with the Nation on a long-term major rehabilitation solution.

“The preferred maintenance paving project would consist of milling and paving both the eastbound and westbound driving lanes between Milepost 451.6 and 455.1,” Moore wrote.

However, another document, less than a month later, showed the Seneca Council tabled a resolution that would have allowed the state to proceed with the short-term work.

2017

In June 2017, Moore wrote another letter to Clark, again asking for permission to move forward with the “stopgap” measure – ideally by July. He again noted the conditions were a hazard to the traveling public and that the preferred option would be to mill and pave the road.

Moore sent a follow up email to Clark in September 2017 with details of the scope of a proposed rehabilitation project. It included milling approximately 7 inches of asphalt to concrete, removing deteriorating sections of concrete sub-base as needed, and installing a “three-course overlay over the existing concrete sub-base.”

A state source said the September email was the last correspondence about the Thruway issue until talks started up again this summer. The source said the parties did discuss bridge inspections in the interim.

Seneca Nation Response

The Senecas conceded the letters and email showed some level of desire from the state to fix the stretch of Thruway, however they argued it did not portray the entire story. A spokesperson said, during the course of the correspondence in the summer of 2017, NYSTA canceled or rescheduled multiple meetings between the two parties. President Rickey Armstrong has said there are “larger transportation infrastructure needs that need to be addressed in comprehensive way” and they have not been able to get the state to the table for discussions.

The Senecas also provided Spectrum News with an email the Nation’s Department of Transportation sent to Driscoll on September 12 of this year.

“The Seneca Nation Council and Executives would like to schedule a meeting with the NYSTA regarding repairs to that portion of the I-90 that is located on the Nation’s Cattaraugus Territory,” the acting director wrote. “To prepare for a productive discussion the Nation Council requests any reports on the current condition of the roadway, as well as what steps the NYSTA is proposing to address the deficiencies, prior to our meeting.”

Days later, Driscoll sent a response to the Senecas, but also directly to the media, expressing frustration about the state’s “multiple attempts to secure this permission” to fix the road.

Moving Forward

The blame-shifting narrative aside, the Senecas and the state may finally be on the same page when it comes to the heavily traffic section of I-90. On September 16, Seneca President Rickey Armstrong requested a copy of the state’s repair plans and to arrange a meeting “as soon as practicable” to discuss details.

“If the Thruway Authority is ready to address the glaring need for repairs in an expedient and cooperative way, as your letter suggests, the Seneca Nation is ready to have that important dialogue,” Armstrong concluded.

Thursday, the president said the Senecas had received and were reviewing information from NYSTA.

State And Senecas May Be Getting Close On Thruway Repairs

The Seneca Nation said it has been in communication with the New York State Thruway Authority this week regarding repairs on a portion of Thruway that crosses the tribe’s Cattaraugus Territory.

President Rickey Armstrong said the Nation is currently reviewing information it received from the authority Wednesday. The new statement comes in response to comments Gov. Andrew Cuomo made during a Thursday interview with Spectrum News.

Cuomo expressed frustration about any insinuation the state was responsible for the road falling into disrepair. He pointed to a letter Thruway Authority Commissioner Matt Driscoll sent to the Senecas over the weekend indicating the state was prepared to start a critical milling and restoration project immediately, and has been attempting to gain access to the stretch for more than five years.

“We will come fix the road tomorrow,” Cuomo said. “If they want to talk about how we fix the road, we can talk about how we fix the road but we are nothing but ready, willing and able to go fix the road tomorrow. However, we need their legal permission which they will not grant.”

In response to Driscoll’s letter, the Senecas said it was the state that has continually canceled or rescheduled meetings to have “a comprehensive discussion regarding important transportation issues.” Cuomo said the administration has no issue with sitting down with tribal leaders as long as the conversation is limited to roads and not the ongoing dispute over casino revenue between the two parties.

“They’ve never broached that they want to talk about anything about how to fix the road,” Cuomo said. “You fix the road by fixing the road. I mean there’s no question about how to fill a pothole. If you want to talk about how to fill a pothole we’ll do that. I don’t believe that’s what they want to talk about. I don’t think they want to let us fix the road because somehow they’re trying to put it together with the money they owe the state on the casino.”

The Senecas said they were happy to hear Cuomo had “finally recognized the long-needed Thruway repairs as separate from other, unrelated issues, since he has publicly tied them together twice in the past few weeks.” The administration contends it never linked the issues but believes the Senecas have been all along.

They have not made payments to the state since March 2017, despite an arbitration panel ruling it has been and is still obligated.  The Senecas have asked a federal judge to vacate the arbitration but vowed to keep the matter separate from the Thruway dispute.

State Lawmakers Meet With Seneca Leaders

From the Morning Memo:

With a number of issues between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York State recently making headlines, a small group of state lawmakers quietly met with tribal leaders last week.

The contingent included state Sen. Tim Kennedy, the chair of the State-Native American Relations Committee, committee member Joseph Addabbo, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Assemblyman Sean Ryan.

Participants said the visit was not to discuss one specific topic, for instance the ongoing disputes over casino revenue or needed Thruway repairs through Seneca territory, but more of a relationship building exercise that covered a wide gamut.

“This was more of an introduction to some of the folks about the impact that the Seneca Nation has had on our community, not just over the course of the last several decades but over the course of the last 243 years of New York State’s existence,” Kennedy said.

The state senator acknowledged that relations between the state and the Senecas are not on particularly good footing. He said helping the two sides reconcile their differences will be a focus of his.

“We’re going to be working closely with the leadership of the Seneca Nation and the governor’s office to bring everyone together to hopefully, once and for all, put all of the past just there – in the past – move on, create that peace, that prosperity that we all not only desire but the our community rightfully deserves,” he said.

Things aren’t all bad between the tribe and the state right now. The Senecas spoke with lawmakers about permanently housing a historic artifact at the Nation’s cultural center in Salamanca.

The New York State Museum currently is loaning a peace pipe tomahawk to the center. It was originally gifted by George Washington to Seneca leader and diplomat Cornplanter in 1792.

Kennedy said he believes the tomahawk, which was the symbol of a treaty between governments, should be turned back over to the Nation.

Reed Criticizes Governor For Death In Salamanca

From the Morning Memo:

Rep. Tom Reed is connecting the recent death in Salamanca to the state’s failure to deliver funding to the city.

In a press release, Reed shared the story from Fire Chief Nick Bocharski. The chief said last week there was only one firefighter available to respond to a person suffering from cardiac arrest.

He said the emergency responder performed what life-saving measures he could by himself but without enough staff to immediately transport, the “person passed away, even after being revived, due to a 29-minute delay.”

“Governor, this falls directly in your lap,” Bocharski was quoted in Reed’s release.

The congressman noted the city had been planning on hiring two more firefighter but was unable to because of a budget shortfall. The state typically shares casino revenue from the Seneca Nation with the three cities where the Seneca Casino’s operate: Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

However, the Nation stopped making those payments since 2017 and the funding to the cities subsequently stopped.

“It is clear the Governor has taken this political spat with the Seneca Nation too far,” Reed said. “It is time for the Governor to end this dispute. Deliver the funds before someone else dies and resolve the unrelated Seneca dispute in the appropriate forum. We are happy to mediate if needed.”

A arbitration panel did rule the Senecas still owe the state for the payments but the Senecas have continued to refuse as they pursue legal options. This summer the state did front Niagara Falls $5 million to help cover its shortfall.

Reed said the Salamanca mayor has said the state owes the city $15 million. However, the governor’s office said the it last spoke with Salamanca leaders in April and nobody has asked for any assistance.

“Once again the Seneca’s favorite lackey has shown he will say anything and do anything to give cover to his friends and deflect from the fact that they reneged on their obligations under the compact and under the agreed upon arbitration. The only good news is that the more time Reed commits to these craven stunts, the less time he has to attempt to shred our Medicaid system – just like he tried to do with his partner in crime, indicted Wall Street fraudster Chris Collins,” Governor Cuomo’s Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi said.

Reed’s office and the governor’s office have publicly feuded for about a month now over the condition of a portion of the Thruway running through Seneca Territory.

Reed’s Office Open To Helping State And Senecas Mediate Thruway Issues

Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-23, said he will refer to the Department of Justice moving forward on a request he made for a federal investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, and his administration.

The congressman said he did have a positive first impression from U.S. Attorney J.P. Kennedy about how his office will handle concerns about the disrepair of a section of Thruway that runs through Seneca Nation territory. The governor acknowledged last week there was a connection between the lack of repairs and an ongoing dispute between the Senecas and the state over casino revenue.

Reed believes Cuomo may be abusing his authority and misusing federal funds by tying together unrelated issues. He voiced those concerns in a letter to Attorney General William Barr and hand-delivered Tuesday to Kennedy in Buffalo.

“(Kennedy) understands that this is a serious request that what we’re trying to do here in regards to holding the governor’s office but at the same time that our priority mission throughout all of this is to make sure the traveling public is safe,” Reed said.

Cuomo’s office dismissed the request for a probe as a cheap stunt and insinuated Reed was “weaponizing law enforcement to score dumb political points.” The congressman said it is absolutely not a stunt.

“When it comes to the lives of the traveling public, we are going to make sure that the shenanigans of political vendettas and political warfare do not risk the lives of people out there on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

The issue has become a bit of a war of words between spokespeople for Reed and Cuomo. The congressman said he is not concerned with being called names, like patsy.

However, he said some people who have expressed concern about the state of I-90 have said they are worried about retribution from the governor who is known to take a hard line with his political opponents.

“We’ve had people come to us and even express concerns about the situation on the highway but did not want to publicly have their information released because their employers told them that they were afraid of losing state contracts and other issues with it,” Reed said.

Finally, the congressman has said he does not believe Cuomo’s explanation that the Senecas will not allow the state on the territory to make repairs. But he said if that is the case, his office is open to mediating a negotiation between the two parties.

Reed and Cuomo’s Offices Exchange Choice Words Over Thruway Issue

A war of words has spawned over the condition of a portion of the New York State Thruway that runs through Seneca Nation territory in Western New York.

The road has deteriorated over a number of years, but the issue was brought back to the forefront earlier this month when Republican Congressman Reed put in writing that the state should be held liable if a serious accident on the stretch. Reed suggested the governor was playing politics with traveler safety because of an unrelated dispute with the Seneca about casino revenue.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office had mostly deferred to the Thruway Authority regarding the timeline for repairs but during a press conference this week, suggested there was a connection between the casino dispute and the I-90 issues. He did suggest it was the Senecas potentially holding up the rehabilitation.
Still, Reed pounced Thursday, calling Cuomo’s stance appalling and questioning whether the governor was abusing his authority. That didn’t sit well with Cuomo’s office which offered up a rather harsh statement.
“Everyone knows that the congressman is used to being the president’s patsy but he shouldn’t be the Senecas’ patsy as well. He should do his job, stand with the communities he represents and demand that the Senecas make good on the arbitrators’ decision and make their neighbors whole,” Rich Azzopardi, Senior Advisor to the Governor, said.
Friday, Reed’s office struck back and like its Albany counterpart, didn’t pull any punches.
“Patsy? Unlike the Governor, none of Tom’s aides are in prison for taking bribes in exchange for sweetheart deals. Tom just wants I-90 fixed for the safety of the travelling public. The Federal funds have been delivered. Just fix the road before someone dies,” Communications Director Will Reinert said.
We will wait to see if Cuomo’s Office returns the volley.

Rep. Reed Criticizes Cuomo For Stance On Thruway Repairs, Seneca Nation

Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-23, expressed “great concern” about comments the governor made earlier this week.

During a trip to Western New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemed to acknowledge a connection between a section of the New York State thruway on Seneca Nation that has fallen into disrepair and an ongoing dispute between the state and the Senecas over casino revenue. He says Cuomo essentially acknowledged he is putting the traveling public’s safety at risk because of a separate political dispute.

“When you see a bully like that, you need to stand up to that bully and stand with the people and their safety and so we’re going to stand up to the governor and say, you know, this is wrong,” Reed said.

Cuomo, Tuesday, said the state would fix the couple mile stretch of road but he does not believe the Senecas would allow it. He said the state would not go in without permission, lest it jeopardize its legal standing in the casino dispute.

Reed seemed skeptical the Senecas would have a problem with the state making repairs based on the public statements they have made.

“I believe the nation agrees tremendously with us in regards to making sure that the traveling public’s safety is paramount.”

The congressman said the “strategy” could represent an abuse of the governor’s authority. Earlier this month, he sent letters putting the state on written notice it would be liable should the road cause a significant problem for drivers.

“We have heard from numerous people about accidents they’ve been involved with, damage to their vehicles as a result of going through that stretch of highway,” Reed said.

He said his office is keeping close tabs on the situation and there could be more to come.

“Everyone knows that the congressman is used to being the president’s patsy but he shouldn’t be the Senecas’ patsy as well. He should do his job, stand with the communities he represents and demand that the Senecas make good on the arbitrators’ decision and make their neighbors whole,” Rich Azzopardi, Senior Advisor to the Governor, said.

LG Agrees Stretch Of Thruway Through Seneca Territory Needs To Be Fixed

Regardless of political affiliation, Western New York politicians seem to agree a portion of the NYS Thruway which runs through Seneca Nation territory needs to be fixed.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said she recently investigated the stretch near Chautauqua County herself. She said it is being addressed at the highest levels of state government.

“We want to get that road fixed,” Hochul said. “I have traveled on that road. It needs work. The motorists who travel the Thruway deserve better.”

The lieutenant governor discussed the deteriorating road with reporters a day after Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-25, called on the governor to take care of it. Reed said it has become dangerous to motorists and he believes the governor’s office is not rehabilitating the stretch because of non-related political reason, like the ongoing dispute between the Senecas and the state over casino revenue.

“The dispute is independent from this,” Hochul said. “That is going on and has been going on.”

She reaffirmed a statement from the Thruway Authority that the state is working with the Seneca Nation toward moving forward with repairs. Hochul did not say specifically what is backing things up but pointed out the Thruway runs through sovereign territory where the state can not simply bring in contractors.

She maintained things are being “worked out” though.

“A lot of it has to even just do with pothole repair so it doesn’t take a year to do,” Hochul said.

The LG said she could not give a firm timeline because it depends on the work needed, and how much can potentially be done before the season changes.

State Transfers $5 Million To Niagara Falls As Casino Dispute Continues

Earlier this week, the state of New York transferred $5 million to the city of Niagara Falls to help alleviate cash flow issues.

It is part of the $12.3 million the governor promised the city in September 2018. The shortfall comes as the Seneca Nation of Indians has refused, now for more than two years, to pay a portion of its slot machine revenue to the state in exchange for gaming exclusivity.

The Senecas argued it’s obligation is up under a compact with the state but an arbitration panel ruled that was not the case. They now want a federal judge to vacate that ruling.

“Fair is fair. The arbitrators said they owe the state of New York at the time $225 million. The meter is still running. Those numbers are only going up,” Hochul said.

Once the state receives funds from the Nation, it shares them with the three cities where the casinos are located, Buffalo, Salamanca and Niagara Falls. Hochul said Buffalo and Salamanca could potentially see advances come their way as well.

“Certainly conversations are ongoing,” she said. “We don’t want to leave any of these communities hanging and Niagara Falls was particularly hard hit.”

Hochul said the $12.3 promised to Niagara Falls was to be transferred as needed at the city’s request. There’s no timetable on when the city might get the remaining $7.3 million and that will be allocated “upon conference with the city comptroller, the state comptroller and others.”

“We have to get this resolved,” Hochul said. “I don’t have an answer right now in terms of a timing because this has to happen as soon as possible and we are doing everything we can as an administration to force that to occur.”

The Seneca Nation has indicated it has no plans to make payments while the litigation is ongoing. It has also asked the Department of Interior to review if the arbitration panel made an illegal amendment to the compact in its judgement.