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Seneca Nation weighs sports betting for its Western New York casinos

ALBANY – Seneca Nation officials are looking at the possibility of bringing sports wagering to the tribe’s three casinos in Western New York, but are not yet committed to the idea.

“We certainly understand that sports betting is an amenity our casino guests may enjoy, but we don’t view it as some sort of desperate lifeline. We will continue our discussions and review as the issue evolves," Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. said Tuesday.

The Seneca leader’s comments come a day after the New York State Gaming Commission gave preliminary approval of a rule letting four upstate commercial casinos to offer sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court last year lifted a federal ban on sports wagering.

Casinos owned by Native American tribes upstate are not specifically mentioned in the proposed rule, but they would be eligible to offer sports wagering per the terms of compacts they have with New York State that permit them to offer the same kinds of gambling as non-Indian casinos.

The Oneida Indian Nation has already announced a deal to have Caesars Entertainment operate sports betting facilities in its three casinos in central New York.

But the Seneca Nation has been quiet on its possible plans.

Lawmakers and various firms tied to the gambling industry are pushing for a sweeping law – as already enacted in some other states – to permit sports betting at many locations throughout the state and, importantly, via the internet that could be used only by consumers who are physically located within the borders of New York State.

But the Cuomo administration has steadfastly ruled out the online idea, saying it would need a constitutional amendment to be legal. Such a process would require two separate votes over two sessions of the Legislature, and a statewide voter referendum that could not occur until the fall of 2021 at the earliest.

Instead, Cuomo maintains sports betting should go to four commercial casinos that were authorized under a constitutional amendment and enabling legislation in 2013. In the bill that year, Cuomo and lawmakers included a provision that said the commercial casinos could someday offer sports betting if the federal ban was ever lifted.

That occurred last year with the Supreme Court ruling, and Cuomo’s Gaming Commission has been studying regulations – needed to implement the 2013 law – since that legal decision. On Monday, the state agency OK'd a preliminary rule, now kicking off a 60-day public comment period, that calls for in-person sports betting at the four casinos, which are located in Seneca, Tioga, Schenectady and Sullivan counties.

Armstrong, in a statement Tuesday afternoon, said Seneca Nation leaders have had “several internal discussions” on the issue of bringing sports betting to the tribe’s casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

The National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal regulatory office, will also play a role in the process for New York's three upstate tribes with casinos – the Senecas, Oneida and St. Regis Mohawks – to offer sports wagering.

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