In part three of New York's Big Bet, Capital Tonight's Nick Reisman examines the agreement made with Indian run casinos to bring non-Indian casinos to New York State.
STATEWIDE -- If Las Vegas style casinos come to New York, it will be in no small part because of a series of complex deals struck by Governor Andrew Cuomo with the state's Indian tribes that shared revenue from their own casinos and created exclusivity zones around their lands. Most importantly for Cuomo, the deals neutralized what could have been an effective campaign to dissuade voters from approving the measure.
"Moving that issue allowed us, generated the energy if you will to settle all the Indian tribe discussions that had been going on for years and as you know, we literally settled all of the issues with Native Americans," Cuomo said.
As Cuomo tells it, the long standing disputes with Seneca, Oneida and St. Regis Mohawk Indian nations wouldn't have been resolved without first pushing to expand casino gaming in New York to allow non-Indian commercial operators in on the action.
Cuomo said, "If we hadn't moved the casino issue, we would have the energy to settle the Indian issue, which was hundreds of millions of dollars to the state."
But the agreements also sidelined what could have been an effective campaign to oppose casino gambling. Indeed, the Oneida Indian Nation is actually helping the pro-casino campaign New York Jobs Now. Board of Elections records show the tribe contributed $50,000 to the effort.
"This is a success for not just the Oneida people. It's a win for central New York and a win for the state," said Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter.
That's Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter in May touting his agreement with the state, which sets aside the Central New York region as an exclusivity zone so a commercial casino won't compete with Turning Stone Resort, which the tribe operates. In exchange, the state and local governments will get a share of the casino revenue.
Similar agreements were struck with the Seneca Nation in Western New York and the Mohawk in the North Country. That means only three zones north of New York City are eligible for casino development: The Catskills, the Albany area and the Southern Tier. But not everyone is convinced the state's Indian tribes got the best deal.
"There's no question there will not be these grandiose state run casinos put within the exclusivity zones that the native territories are paying for. The problem is the Senecas and the Oneidas already have these racetrack casinos already in the exclusivity zones and there's no language that those won't expand," said John Kane, host of "Let's Talk Native."
Kane is the host of "Let's Talk Native," a radio show that focuses on current affairs within the state's American Indian tribes. He doesn't think the tribes got the best deal they possibly could, upsetting rank and file tribal members who benefit from the revenue of the Indian-run casinos.
"When that deal was finally inked, $340 million left Western New York and went to Albany and not much of it's coming back," Kane said.
Agreements struck earlier this year apply to the five Indian run casinos that operate across Upstate New York. Under the agreements, revenue, for the first time, will be shared with the surrounding local and county governments, as well as with the state. Kane is skeptical, however, that the local communities near Indian-run casinos will see any benefit from the amendment passing.
Kane said, "Most people are not going to see a casino come into their area. So most people aren't going to see any benefit or the alleged benefit that a casino is going to bring. "
Still, casino supporters say the money generated by gaming will benefit communities across the state, even those in the exclusivity zones.
"So those schools like the City of Rochester and other urban centers that have high needs will get a larger share will get a larger share because they already getting a larger share of the economic resources that go to schools in this state," said Assemblyman Joe Morelle.
And even if the amendment is voted down, the revenue sharing and exclusivity agreements approved between state government and the Indian tribes remain in place.