New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his second State of the State speech on Wednesday, January 4, unveiling an ambitious plan to generate jobs by rebuilding the state’s aging infrastructure and developing a commercial casino industry, and he urged lawmakers to pass an amendment to the state Constitution to allow expanded gaming.
Seneca Nation officials supported the governor’s proposal for statewide gaming, but said they expect the state to honor the law and compact that gives the nation’s a 14-county gaming exclusivity zone in Western New York. The Oneida Nation Representative acknowledged Cuomo’s “far reaching and ambitious agenda.”
Speaking in Albany to an audience of more than 2,000 legislators, lobbyists, union officials, policy leaders and tribal leaders, Cuomo laid out a multi-pronged economic development agenda that invests billions of dollars in public-private sector partnerships that will spur job creation while limiting spending. Cuomo announced in early December that he had come on board in support of expanding commercial gaming with state legislators and a lobbying group that wants to convert nine racetracks to full blown casinos.
“Recognizing that New York is losing billions of dollars in revenue to neighboring states through its failure to capitalize on the potential of casino gaming, Governor Cuomo announced that he will push for a constitutional amendment to allow gaming in New York State. Residents of New York spend billions in casinos outside of the state, taking valuable tourism dollars, revenue, and jobs away from New York. It is estimated that $1 billion of economic activity can be generated in New York State through legalizing casino gaming,” Cuomo’s updated website announced following the speech.
Among Cuomo’s boldest proposals is his to build “the largest convention center in the nation”—a 3.8-million square feet facility with 3,000 hotel rooms, restaurants and a casino. The project will be financed by the Malaysia-based Genting Organization. “We are pursuing a joint venture with the Genting Organization, a gaming development company, to complete this vision at the Aqueduct Racetrack venue,” Cuomo said. “It is a $4 billion private investment that will generate tens of thousands of jobs and economic activity that will ripple throughout the state. We will make New York the #1 convention site in the nation.”
Genting is a multinational corporation that is a worldwide leader in casino development. The company trades Over the Counter with the symbol GMALY. As of 2:37 p.m. on Wednesday, Genting shares were trading at 29.32, down 2.62. The stock is thinly traded with an average daily volume of 311 over the past three months, but Wednesday’s trade volume was at 2,000 before Cuomo’s speech. The company’s revenue growth last year was 17.24 percent while its earnings growth was 6.23 percent. Genting opened its first U.S. casino in New York in October and has an agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to finance a casino.
“New York is an international destination. Tourism is at record numbers. Tourists spent $50 billion in New York State in 2010. We know that if we build it, they will come —because New York is the place to be. But we must stay ahead of the competition. Convention centers are important generators of economic activity. New York needs a larger, state-of-the-art venue to be competitive for the largest tradeshows and conventions,” Cuomo said.
Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter commended Cuomo’s plan, which also includes highway and bridge work, tax reform and mandate relief, among other things. “Governor Cuomo presented a very far-reaching and ambitious agenda,” Halbritter said. “We support the Governor’s goal of revitalizing the upstate economy and creating a more prosperous future for all of our communities. We look forward to working with the Administration as a productive partner in building a better New York.”
Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter and Councilor Nikki Seneca attended the State of the State speech. Porter noted that Cuomo mentioned that a constitutional amendment to permit casino gambling is a long process that requires passage by two successive Legislatures and a public referendum of the state’s voters. “If the governor, the state Legislature and a majority of New Yorkers decide that the best course is to permit casino gambling in New York City, the Catskills, Saratoga, the Adirondacks and so on, that’s their choice,” Porter said. “What the Seneca Nation wants and expects is that current state law carving out an area of exclusive gaming operations for the Nation is fully retained in Western New York. Those operations belong to the Nation, separate from the state, even though the state benefits greatly from them.”
Porter said that the nation’s regional exclusive right to operate its three casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca comes at a high cost, both in money already invested and in revenues shared with the state and three host municipalities. Seneca Nation invested $900 million over the last 10 years in its three casinos and two resort hotels and has debt-service agreements based on that exclusive zone promise.
“The governor wisely recognizes the economic benefits to New York State of Indian-owned casinos. The Seneca Nation has no quarrel with the governor’s goal of bringing this success to other parts of the state, but in the course of doing so, the state must not kill the golden goose that supports the Western New York economy and must recognize our exclusivity zone.”
In return for that exclusivity, the Nation paid the state and its casinos’ host communities—Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca—$476 million since 2002. “Paying the state close to 25 percent of our gross slot revenues is an extraordinary amount that the Nation nonetheless agreed to and paid until 2009,” Councilor Seneca said. “This is a much higher rate than the state will obtain from any commercial casino operator and it makes our exclusivity zone bought and paid for, in accordance with state law. The state must respect our mutual agreement.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 3, the Nation launched a statewide advocacy and advertising campaign designed to emphasize its businesses’ economic contributions to Western New York and to protect its exclusive right to casino gaming in the region, regardless of what the state government does to permit casinos in New York. The Senecas Mean Business campaign will promote the benefits of the Seneca Nation’s $1.1 billion economy, including the $125 million annual payroll for its 6,000 employees and the $167 million spent annually with local businesses and suppliers. The campaign’s informational and educational web site is www.senecasmeanbusiness.com.
Porter also noted a scientific poll recently conducted on the Nation’s behalf showed 41 percent of all respondents knew that the Seneca Nation has a gaming exclusivity zone in Western New York and that 84 percent favor continued operation of Seneca Nation gaming in that zone. The poll also showed that 71 percent respondents felt that other should not be permitted in Western New York.
The ad campaign is also designed to increase awareness of the Nation and its rights for state legislators and average New Yorkers from other regions who may not understand its history and achievements, Seneca officials said.