The new president of the Seneca Nation of Indians is ready and willing to kick-start negotiations with New York state over a casino gaming agreement.
But Cyrus M. Schindler has a couple of demands before the talks can happen.
"I want to meet one on one with Gov. (George E.) Pataki, and I want him to tell me we can have slots," Schindler said.
"Pataki has been making a lot of promises about helping Niagara Falls and keeps talking about how it needs a casino.
"Matter of fact," Schindler said, "(Patrick) Kehoe (a Pataki assistant counsel) was at the Grand Island hearing a few weeks ago and told me 'we are ready to talk about a compact whenever you are.' "
"Do you think Pataki and his people or anybody else really believes that we could open a casino around here without slots and compete with Canada?" Schindler wondered. "We are willing to talk about some revenue sharing if there is a casino.
"Right now," the president grinned, "we are getting a hundred percent of zero."
It was a quiet breakfast interview in his Smoke Signals Cafe "to get away from the phones in my office that never seem to stop ringing and try to find time for all the people that want to talk to me," Schindler said.
"The casino issue has been around for more than seven years. It's been almost three years since our people approved a referendum to negotiate a compact with the state and bring it back to them for their decision, and we are not much closer to doing that now than we were then," he reflected.
In response to the Seneca president's request for a "one on one" meeting, Michael McKeon, Pataki's press secretary, said he would have to check with the governor.
"The bottom line is, we certainly want to build a relationship with the new leader of the Seneca Nation and work together to resolve issues of mutual interest," he said.
Meanwhile, the Senecas are going ahead with plans to expand their high-stakes bingo operations both on and off the reservations.
"Niagara Falls and Buffalo have not been ruled out," Schindler said. "I have met with both mayors, just to get acquainted, and promised to get back to them. But first our nation has to decide exactly what we want to do and where we want to do it."
"Lots of people out there are interested in us," Schindler said.
"The calls and letters started from the first day" he took office three months ago, he said. "People offering to fly me to Vegas, Mississippi, Florida to see their machines or their casinos."
With one exception, all the would-be Seneca partners are talking casino, Schindler said.
"Only Cordish came up with some ideas for Class II (high stakes bingo) plus they are involved with the Seminoles' bingo halls, so we have talked with them, but no commitments have been made."
Cordish & Co., a Baltimore-based developer, has been courting the Senecas for more than a year to enter into a gambling deal.
Cordish is working with Buffalo to develop Memorial Auditorium into an urban entertainment center and with Niagara Falls to do the same with Rainbow Mall.
"I haven't been inside the Aud for a long time," Schindler confessed, "and don't know much about the Rainbow Mall. But I can see the possibilities of putting Class II in them."
Schindler has his work cut out for him, not just with gaming but also in pulling his nation together.
The political turmoil among the Senecas over the past six years has not gone unnoticed by Schindler, despite the fact this is his first political office.
Casino negotiations with the state have been in limbo for most of the administration of Schindler's predecessor, Duane J. Ray.
There was bitter infighting over control of the negotiating team, and state negotiators insisted the compact negotiations be tied to the Senecas' dropping their Grand Island land claim and to Indian businesses collecting state taxes on reservation sales of tobacco and gasoline.
The Senecas rejected those ideas.