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Cuomo signs bill expanding casino gambling across state

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation Tuesday to dramatically expand casino gambling in New York State, a day before he is to appear with Seneca Nation leaders at three events in Western New York formally ending a four-year-old dispute over revenue-sharing payments from the tribe’s three casinos.

The new legislation, identifying three areas of upstate where the first four of seven eventual casinos may be located, continues the Seneca Nation’s decade-old exclusivity arrangement in which it pays a part of slot machine revenues to the state in return for having no casino competition in a vast region from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border.

The governor and Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr., who in June announced an end to the dispute, are expected to announce the release of $349.7 million to the state and the cities of Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

The Senecas get to keep $209.8 million they withheld during the dispute in which the tribe claimed the state breached its 2002 casino compact by allowing new forms of gambling into the area, specifically at racetrack-based gambling halls in Hamburg, Batavia and the Finger Lakes region.

The governor is expected at a 10 a.m. event today at the Seneca Niagara Event Center in Niagara Falls, followed by appearances in Buffalo and later in the day in Salamanca.

Cuomo also is expected, if not on today’s trip, to prod Western New York voters to back the casino expansion plan because it contains a provision that expands casino revenue-sharing payments to all counties in Western New York. That will only happen if the casino expansion plan is approved by voters in a referendum in November.

The State Legislature sent Cuomo the gambling legislation measure Tuesday, and with the Western New York trip scheduled for Wednesday, the governor quickly signed the bill without waiting the usual 10 days he has to act on legislation.

The Cuomo administration declined to discuss today’s trip, but Snyder confirmed it and said he expects to travel with Cuomo to all three events to again announce an end to the casino revenue-sharing dispute.

“The plus side is we have our compact back in order once again,’’ Snyder said in an interview Tuesday. He said relations with the state have improved to the point where the Seneca Nation is willing to be a possible partner in future economic development ventures.

“I have a good relationship with the governor, and there’s a lot of things we can do as a sovereign nation that can be economic opportunities not only for (the Seneca Nation) but for the state,’’ Snyder said.

Cuomo is making the trip to basically re-announce the deal he and Snyder announced more than month ago. He will be doing it in a region where he is trying to gather support in advance of his re-election campaign next year.

He is likely to tout his ability to end the dispute with the Senecas that gets local revenue-sharing dollars flowing again to the three communities in a dispute that began when David A. Paterson was governor.

Cuomo threatened Seneca leaders with the placement of a casino competitor, possibly in downtown Niagara Falls, if the tribe did not resolve the dispute before lawmakers approved the casino expansion legislation in June. After two other upstate tribes struck deals with Cuomo, the Seneca Nation soon agreed to a deal that requires track-based casinos to change their marketing to not compete with the Senecas as if they are full-blown casinos and includes all-but-certain extension of the tribe’s casino compact until 2023.

Under the terms of the 2002 compact, the Senecas must share 25 percent of slot machine proceeds with the state, which then shares a portion with “host’’ communities. In this case, the end of the dispute will bring $89 million to Niagara Falls, $34.5 million to Salamanca and $15.5 million to Buffalo.

Under the deal Cuomo made with the three Indian tribes, new casinos will be banned from areas of Western New York, Northern New York and a large area of Central New York. They will be permitted in three areas: the greater Albany region, the Southern Tier east of Binghamton and a large area including the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley. One of those regions, likely the Catskills, will be permitted up to two of the first four casinos.

Cuomo dubs the legislation the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act. “This new law will bring the state one step closer to establishing world-class destination gaming resorts that will attract tourists to upstate New York and support thousands of good-paying jobs as well as new revenue for local businesses,’’ he said.

Even if the new measure does not get approved by voters, video lottery terminal gambling halls – such as the one at Hamburg Raceway – will be permitted in the three targeted upstate regions, as well as Nassau County. If the referendum is successful, Long Island will be able to open two gambling halls with 1,000 slot-like devices.

The governor will have to work hard to get the referendum passed. Polls show voter sentiment is mixed on the idea.