The Seneca Nation of Indians has been giving 25% of its slot winnings to New York State since the tribe was first approved to offer gambling. It had a compact in place with the government that broke down how the two entities would get along, but that compact expired in 2017. The Seneca people have since decided to not pay the state its share, so New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, is retaliating with whatever he has available in his arsenal. In this case, his weapon of choice is a highway. Cuomo is refusing to repair a section of roadway that runs through tribal land until the dispute is resolved.
According to a report by The Buffalo News, the New York Thruway has a section three miles long in Chautauqua County that is “crumbling” and virtually unsafe. It is so bad that the state has a recommended speed of just 45 MPH through the area, and warning signs have had to be installed to indicate the poor conditions. It’s going to stay that way, too, unless the tribe relents.
Seneca tribal leaders have argued that the gambling compact’s expiration nullified the requirement to give up a portion of its gross gaming revenue (GGR). Although the compact has a clause that automatically renewed the agreement for another 14 years, they assert that there is no mention of the payments being renewed, as well.
This past April, an arbitration panel disagreed, ultimately ruling that the tribe was on the hook for about $255 million in payments. Seneca Nation scoffed and has appealed to federal courts to intervene, and the case is still up in the air.
If the tribe isn’t willing to play nicely, Cuomo won’t, either. He explained in a news conference this week, “I don’t want to give them a reason to say New York breached the agreement by coming onto I-90 when they had no right to come onto I-90. That could actually jeopardize our position on the revenues.”
That might be valid if it weren’t for the fact that Cuomo is politicizing a thoroughfare that is accessible to everyone and, by not repairing it properly, he is personally responsible for any accidents that may occur. Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr., the president of the Seneca Nation, agrees, stating, “The only reason that the state repeatedly turns a blind eye to its obligation to repair the deteriorating condition of the portion of the Thruway crossing our Cattaraugus Territory is pure, simple political retribution. He’s playing politics with the safety of the traveling public.”
Cuomo added during his speech, “We want them to honor their part of the bargain. I’m not going to act in bad faith, even though I believe they’re acting in bad faith. We’re in the courts with them. When we settle the larger issue on the revenues, I believe the I-90 issue will be resolved.” Apparently, “acting in bad faith” is wide open to interpretation.