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Cuomo open to possibility of non-Seneca casinos

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is not ruling out placing non-Indian casinos in Western New York if the state and the Seneca Nation cannot resolve a years-long dispute over revenue-sharing payments from the tribe's three gambling facilities.

The governor, who also said he opposes local communities being able to hold separate referendums on casino developments if the state next year approves a big gambling expansion, raised the stakes Monday in the unresolved talks between his administration and the Seneca Nation over more than $400 million in held-up casino revenue payments to Albany and local communities.

The Seneca Nation, which enjoys a large geographic exclusivity arrangement for its three casinos in return for sharing a quarter of its slot machine revenues with Albany, has ceased making those payments for several years in a disagreement over gambling competition in the region.

Asked if he supports non-Indian casinos coming into the Senecas' exclusivity area, Cuomo said Monday, "It depends. We'll have to see where we are [next] year on what the adherence to the contract is."

The Senecas and Cuomo are at odds in an arbitration dispute that has yet to get fully under way. At issue is the more than $400 million the Senecas stopped paying a few years ago, a portion of which goes to local "host" communities in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

"Contracts cannot be one-sided," Cuomo said of the Seneca dispute. "The contract basically said for these payments, the state will grant this. Well, if there are no payments, then you would argue, there's no exclusivity. If you want the exclusivity, which was our end of the contract, well, then, you have to live up to your end of the contract."

Cuomo's words were the toughest to date on his administration's disagreement with the Seneca Nation.

Seneca officials declined to comment.

Cuomo is pushing a dramatic expansion of gambling in New York, with a resolution that passed the Legislature this year calling for up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos to be located on non-Indian lands. The State Legislature would have to approve the same resolution before it could go to voters in a statewide referendum, at the earliest in November 2013.

Cuomo and lawmakers have not yet said where the possible casino developments might be able to locate.

Asked if a failure to resolve the revenue-sharing dispute with the Senecas by next year would make him open to new, non-Indian casinos in Western New York, Cuomo said, "If we don't have that question resolved, it means we are in an adverse, hostile, open litigation over the contract with the reservations."

The governor, for the first time, also said he opposes any move to let local voters have a say on whether casinos can locate in their specific communities -- a path some states have insisted upon for casino locations.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com