New York: Seneca Nation reportedly exploring Rochester casino in new compact with state

The Seneca Nation of Indians is reportedly eyeing a new casino in Rochester as part of their new gaming compact with the Hochul administration, according to media reports. The tribe has allegedly long seen Rochester and Monroe County as a way to expand in Western New York, and their freshly signed deal with state officials could grant it a way to advance those plans.

Both parties have been “quietly negotiating” plans for a casino in downtown Rochester as part of the new gaming compact, officials familiar with the discussions told POLITICO. The talks reportedly “shocked” Rochester leaders late Friday as the state Legislature was preparing before the end of session to approve a bill authorizing the governor’s office to negotiate a new compact.

While the bill passed the Senate, it was not approved in the Assembly amid concerns from Rochester leaders and neighboring gambling facilities about the impact of a new casino in the city. The del Lago Casino in the Finger Lakes has about 1,000 union jobs represented by the influential Hotel and Gaming Trades Council.

del Lago Casino and Resort

“I learned of it pretty late last night. I was extremely concerned about it,” Assemblymember Harry Bronson (D-Rochester) told POLITICO. “This is something that should be seriously discussed in an open and transparent way, and if the rumor is correct and they are considering potentially downtown Rochester or even in the surrounding area of Rochester, local folks should have a say in this.”

According to the cited source, the Senecas, who already have three casinos in the Buffalo area, have long eyed Rochester as a way to expand in Western New York, but those efforts never came to fruition. Should a casino there move forward, the tribe would need to buy land and then earn federal approval to make it sovereign land apt for gambling property.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle also reported that the tribe and Hochul have “possibly” negotiated an agreement to bring a casino to Rochester, and that lines are already being drawn among supporters, who see it as an economic boon, and opponents, who contend the economic returns are overstated and that it will feed gambling addiction.

On Twitter, Rochester Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Duffy said he supports the extension of a compact with the Senecas. “The compact agreement is a long time coming – but I highly doubt it specifically mandates a casino in the city of Rochester,” Duffy tweeted. The decision, he said, is up to Mayor Malik Evans, local and state leaders and the tribe.

For her part, County Legislator Rachel Barnhart is asking fellow county lawmakers to take a stand against the casino, should it be proposed. Casinos do not “create new wealth, employment or tourism,” she wrote in a memo to the Legislature, as per Democrat and Chronicle. Instead, she said a casino would “cannibalize existing dollars spent in our community.”

The Rochester Business Journal indicates the Senecas are believed to be doing “an exploratory search” of possible vacant real estate in or near Atlantic Avenue and the Neighborhood of The Arts. “Rochester is a market we have been exploring for some time,” Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. said in a prepared statement to the RBJ.

Mayor Malik Evans said he has heard whispers about an interest by the Nation in a local gaming facility. “Anything related to gaming, I would hope we would have a conversation,” Evans said, as per the RBJ. “I’m not necessarily opposed, but I would want a conversation, especially with the challenges we face. Quality of life is always the No. 1 conversation.”

The Seneca Nation announced last week an "agreement in principle" for the compact

The reports of a Rochester casino plan come as the tribe pushes for a new compact with the state as the current one expires by the end of the year. A law to authorize the governor’s office to sign off the new 20-year deal is needed, and while the Assembly wrapped up its session Saturday, they are expected to be back in the coming weeks.

The tribe urged unsuccessfully for the Assembly to vote on the legislation to give the Hochul administration the ability to finalize the compact. It followed the Senecas’ announcement on Wednesday of an “agreement in principle” with the Governor’s office, which Yogonet reported on last week.

In their asking for passage, Senecas urged the state “to hold up their side of the bargain,” encouraging the Assembly to approve the bill just as the Senate did. In a statement, Armstrong, Sr., said the compact represented “an opportunity for new and continued jobs,” which many interpreted as a reference to the potential Rochester casino.