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Governor Anderw Cuomo's Gambling Push Opposed by Native American Tribes

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Casino chips (Jam Adams/flickr)

Native American gaming interests plan to mount a campaign opposing Governor Andrew Cuomo's call for a "more comprehensive approach" to gambling, saying it would undermine their revenues and violate existing agreements.

The governor made the remarks during his State of the State speech, arguing that "over $1 billion of economic activity can be generated."

Currently, tribes, such as the Seneca Nation, have exclusive rights to operate casinos in New York, but fear the competition that could result from Cuomo's proposal.

"If the exclusivity is violated, it would cause significant harm to our existing businesses," said Robert Odawi Porter, president of the Seneca Nation. The tribe is set to blanket the upstate radio airwaves with ads rejecting the governor's proposal.

The Seneca Nation argues that through 2009, it has generated $476 million in revenue for the state. In 2002, the tribe signed a 21-year compact with the Pataki administration, allowing it to retain exclusivity in Western New York. Not all tribes have exclusivity in the state.

Although some Senecas suggest they would be fine with expanded gambling in other parts of the state, experts said Cuomo's proposal would likely allow gambling in the area the Seneca's feel is their exclusive territory.

"We're very sensitive to broken promises," Porter said.

Cuomo's plan would mean passing a constitutional amendment allowing non-Indian gambling in New York.

Joseph Kelly, a professor at SUNY Buffalo and co-editor of Gaming Law Review, argues that the state could draw business that currently goes to Atlantic City, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. But he pointed to the last legislative push, in 1997, which failed to win approval.

"There were all sorts of legal challenges, some by people who were opposed to gambling expansion. One lawsuit was subsidized by an entity from Atlantic City, who did not want to see competition from New York City, " Kelly explained.

In that instance, Kelly said the legislation never came close to passing.

"Governor Cuomo will have to work very hard to get this through the legislature," Kelly said.

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