Senecas condemn efforts to derail casino in Rochester; lawmakers and activists hold rally against proposal

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — We’ve heard from the Seneca Nation of Indians for the first time Friday night about the supposed agreement with the governor’s office — to build a casino in the Rochester area.

In a statement emailed to News10NBC Friday night, Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. called efforts to derail the agreement “despicable.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration had quietly agreed to a new 20-year compact with the Seneca Nation. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of it — but word leaked out that it included a possible casino in Rochester. That created a firestorm of opposition — leading the state Assembly to delay its vote.

According to the Seneca Nation president, they’ve been negotiating this deal for nearly a year.

The Senecas say the governor’s office was free to communicate with local officials throughout the process. Our delegation claims it was not informed of any of this.

Also, the Senecas say while they agreed not to negotiate through the press, they never entered into a non-disclosure agreement as the Hochul administration claimed.

Earlier Friday, community members gathered at the Liberty Pole Friday to protest an agreement that could allow the Seneca Nation to build a casino in downtown Rochester.

State lawmakers, social justice advocates, and faith leaders spoke out against what they call a “backroom deal” between the Seneca Nation and the governor’s office. The rally was co-hosted by The Arc of Justice and the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council (HTC).

Members of the Rochester State Assembly Delegation met virtually with leaders of the Seneca Nation on Thursday. Assemblymember Harry Bronson says officials with the Seneca Nation shared why they want the casino here and how it would benefit the Seneca Nation. Bronson and the other local lawmakers asked them to reconsider.

“What happens from here is that the governor’s folks and the Seneca Nation need to go back to the negotiation table and try to come up with an alternative plan,” Bronson said.

No commitments have been made by either side.

On Friday, the protesters called on Gov. Hochul’s office to release more details on the compact. Local officials learned about the potential for a casino in the Rochester market through a Politico report.

Assemblymembers Sarah Clark and Demond Meeks the bill was “rushed” through the Senate. The Assembly, after the report came out, opted not to vote just yet.

“Our gripe as elected officials who happen to be Democrats is not with Seneca Nation. They have no allegiance to us. Our gripe is with our Democratic governor, who we supported,” Meeks said.

“We’ll continue to negotiate a deal that is not involving a community that has had no say,” Clark said.

Late Friday, State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the Assembly “cannot move forward with a vote” because of those concerns.

Employees and union representatives from surrounding gaming facilities like Del Lago and Batavia Downs also joined the demonstration Friday.

“A lot of our customers do come from the Rochester area. I probably say 60-70 percent,” Willis Almekinder, a table game dealer at Del Lago, said. “I see a lot when I’m interacting with the community, and that is going to help take away from our jobs and we’re here fighting for our jobs.”