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Seneca Nation president: 'Our obligation to the state ended'

Todd Gates

The Seneca Nation of Indians is looking to make financial agreements directly with the three cities that host its casinos, President Todd Gates said Thursday.

"Our obligation to the state ended," Gates said during a news conference on the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus territory. "This will be something new."

The Seneca leader contends that the Senecas' 2002 gambling compact with New York only required payments be made for 14 years in exchange for exclusive rights to operate casinos in Western New York through 2023.

The exclusivity remains in place even though the payments to the state are over, Gates told reporters.

Gates said the Seneca Nation is willing to pay for government services that are provided for its operations and to share a portion of revenue with the host municipalities.

"We're looking at the local share," he said. "And we've always been a good neighbor here in Western New York. We'll continue to be a good neighbor. Western New York is our home. We're not going anywhere and we have good relationships with a lot of local leaders and the business community."

Seneca officials have spoken with local leaders about the matter, Gates said.

From 2008 through 2014, the agreement between the state and the Seneca Nation called for the nation to pay 25 percent of its slot machine revenue to the state, which then distributed a portion to local municipalities.

The funds previously provided to the state will be reapplied by the Seneca Nation to provide benefits and services to the Seneca people, Gates said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration rejected the assertion Wednesday night that no more payments are required, with spokesman Richard Azzopardi saying, "It's clear this payment structure remains in place.''

Gates said he had a "cordial" conversation with Cuomo on Thursday. "There is a willingness to talk," Gates said.

When asked if state officials ever previously acknowledged to the Seneca Nation that they realized payments would end after 2016, Gates said "no."

Seneca Nation President Todd Gates, with Seneca Nation Councilors seated behind him, said his people have fulfilled their obligations of revenue sharing with New York state. (Aaron Besecker/Buffalo News)

The Seneca Nation expects to make its final payment of about $30 million to the state by the March 31 deadline, he said.

"Per the plain language of the compact, revenue share contribution exists for 14 years. This is not new," Gates said before taking questions from reporters. "The language of the compact has not changed. We are following the language of the compact as we always have."

When asked if the reason for the lack of payment language going forward was a matter of someone forgetting to put a line in an agreement or resulting from some sort of semantic interpretation, Gates said: "Not on our part."

The Senecas operate three casinos in Western New York: the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo and the Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca.

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