Jun 4, 2012

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he will “100 percent oppose” giving the state’s racetracks exclusive rights to build full-scale casinos in the state.

New York’s nine racetracks that have video-lottery terminals have been heavily lobbying Cuomo and the state Legislature to give them the rights to build casinos in the state. The state Legislature this year passed the first of two constitutional amendments to allow for up to seven casinos.

But Cuomo said he wants an open competition, and he won’t necessarily give the racinos the jackpot of being able to open casinos, which would have table games and other amenities that they don’t currently have. The Democratic governor also said he might consider casinos in western New York, despite the exclusive gaming rights of the Seneca Nation of Indians.

In western New York, the casino issue is complicated because the Seneca Nation of Indians have exclusive gaming rights in the region, stretching from Buffalo and east of Rochester. But the tribe has withheld more than $300 million in payments to the state in recent years, claiming the current three racinos in the region – Batavia, Finger Lakes and Buffalo — are infringing on their rights.

Cuomo said if the Senecas don’t pay, then their exclusivity might be nullified. The Senecas have three casinos in western New York.

He suggested that the Senecas’ holdout might allow for private casinos to be located in western New York.

“Contracts cannot be one-sided instruments. The contract basically said for these payments, the state will grant this exclusivity,” Cuomo said. “Well if there are no payments, then you would argue there is no exclusivity. If you want the exclusivity — which was our end of the contract — then you would have to live up to your end of the contract.”

Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter declined to comment through a spokesman.