NY officials probe eavesdropping allegations against Senecas
By CHRIS CAROLA
Aug. 22, 2017
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Representatives of the Native American tribe that runs three casinos in western New York are accused of eavesdropping on employees of the state Gaming Commission.
The Erie County district attorney's office confirmed Tuesday that it was investigating allegations by commission workers who claimed they were eavesdropped on by the Seneca Gaming Authority, operators of the tribe's casinos in downtown Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, near the Pennsylvania border.
Spectrum News in Buffalo first reported Monday that a listening device was found last year by commission officials in an office the agency leases from the Senecas at the tribe's Buffalo casino. Officials with the Seneca Nation of Indians said the investigation involves an employee of the Seneca Gaming Authority but provided no details.
The allegations come amid testy relations between Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration and the Senecas over the tribe's halting of payments of tens of millions of dollars in casino revenue to the state.
Earlier this year, the Senecas stopped sharing their casino revenue with the state after turning over $1.4 billion since 2002. Seneca President Todd Gates said at the time that they were willing to make payments to the three cities where their casinos are located in exchange for services but that their financial obligation to the state as outlined in a 15-year-old compact has ended.
The Cuomo administration disagreed, arguing that the payments should continue under the original contract that gave the tribe exclusive rights to operate three casinos in western New York in exchange for up to 25 percent of slot machine revenues. The state then split the revenues with the host communities in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, as well as with nearby municipalities.
Gates said Cuomo canceled a meeting with tribal leaders scheduled for Tuesday in Niagara Falls. The Democratic governor was on neighboring Grand Island for a transportation infrastructure announcement. Gates said Cuomo canceled "over a completely unrelated legal issue involving an employee of the Seneca Gaming Authority."
Responding to reports that Cuomo was threatening to allow a non-Seneca casino to open in Niagara Falls if the tribe didn't resume revenue payments, Gates said such a stance "shows a complete disregard" for the 4,000 people employed at the Seneca casino and other tribe-owned businesses.
Cuomo, during an appearance later Tuesday in suburban Rochester, said the Senecas' refusal to make the revenue payments means they surrender the tribe's exclusive rights to operate a casino in Niagara Falls. As for canceling the meeting with the Senecas, Cuomo said, "It would be inappropriate for me to meet with them while you have a criminal investigation ongoing."