Rochester City Council and Mayor Malik Evans are responding to news that the Hochul Administration has been quietly negotiating plans for a potential casino in downtown Rochester.
All nine city council members signed a letter asking the Governor to “halt any conversation about a downtown Rochester casino.”
“It should be noted that neither City leadership nor members of our New York State delegation has been involved in any conversations related to this possibility,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Any conversation of this magnitude that does not include local stakeholders is unacceptable.”
Local officials in Rochester became aware of the secret negotiations late Friday while the State Legislature was preparing to approve a bill granting the governor's office the authority to negotiate a new compact with the Senecas.
Although the bill was passed in the Senate, it was not approved in the Assembly due to concerns expressed by Rochester leaders and nearby gambling establishments regarding the potential impact of a casino in the city.
The Seneca Nation currently operates three casinos in the Buffalo area but has long been interested in expanding its presence in Western New York and has been particularly focused on Rochester and Monroe County. However, their previous efforts have not materialized.
They are advocating for a new compact because the current one expires at the end of the year, necessitating legislation to authorize the governor's office to approve a new 20-year compact. While the Assembly concluded its session on Saturday, they are expected to reconvene in the coming weeks, offering an opportunity to revisit the issue.
Rochester City Council says that while they acknowledge that a casino in Rochester would not require any local input, consultation or consent, they are calling for open, transparent discourse on the matter.
“This is not the first time there has been discussion about a Rochester casino. Previous discussions demonstrated that casinos are polarizing, and there was a significant amount of local opposition,” their statement reads.
According to POLITICO, Hochul has recused herself from the negotiations due to her husband's executive position at Delaware North, a Buffalo-based hospitality company that owns Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Farmington, Ontario County.
Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack has 440 employees and del Lago Casino in Waterloo employs around 1,000 union workers represented by the influential Hotel and Gaming Trades Council.
If a Rochester casino were to proceed, the Senecas would need to purchase land and obtain federal approval to designate it as sovereign territory for constructing a casino.
The tribe and New York State have been engaged in disputes for several years, including a five-year legal battle over the payment of casino revenue to the state. The dispute ended last year when the Senecas agreed to pay the state $566 million—which Hochul said is being used to pay for a new Buffalo Bills stadium, according to POLITICO.
Evans says there are already numerous casinos in the Rochester area. “My focus remains on meaningful opportunities that create a vibrant Rochester economy focused on the jobs of the 21st century.”
Read a copy of the letter from city council: