By Tom Precious
ALBANY – Lawmakers have introduced legislation to give a financial benefit to racetrack-based casinos in Western New York that will have to change their marketing strategies following last week’s deal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Seneca Nation to end a $600 million dollar dispute that raged for four years.
The bill, by Sen. George Maziarz, a Newfane Republican, and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, would lower the amount of money the three track casinos – located in Hamburg, Batavia and near Rochester – would have to pay to the state lottery division from video lottery terminal revenues.
The legislation would also provide additional funds for capital improvements at the racinos, increase the fee the facilities get from the state by 7.5 percent and increase “free play’’ allowances used as a lure to keep bettors in the parlors. The tracks also want reimbursement of the cost to “re-brand’’ themselves as called for in the Cuomo and Seneca agreement; that would presumably include the cost of at least creating new entrance signs, billboards and other marketing expenses.
The tracks were at the heart of a dispute in which the Seneca Nation said its 2002 compact with the state was breached, in part, by a 2008 decision by the state Lottery Division to let the three track racinos market themselves as “casinos’’ and say that they offered patrons “slot machines.’’ The racinos are permitted to offer video lottery terminals, which look, sound and play like slot machines, but Cuomo agreed last week to end the way the racinos had been able to market themselves the past five years.
The Seneca Nation, whose ruling Council has not yet approved the agreement signed by Cuomo and Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr., was able to keep $209 million of the $600 million in revenue sharing payments it withheld during the dispute with the state.
The Seneca Nation is awaiting to see what comes out of the final plan by Cuomo to expand casino gambling in the state. Over the weekend, a draft bill circulated that showed Cuomo, despite the deal last week, proposed letting up to two video lottery terminal facilities into Western New York – within the Seneca Nation’s gambling exclusivity zone that Cuomo re-affirmed last week in the deal – if voters this fall reject a casino expansion measure Cuomo and lawmakers are pushing. Cuomo administration officials said Saturday that draft was outdated and that the terms of the gambling exclusivity deal Cuomo signed would be “100 percent honored.’’