NIAGARA FALLS - The Seneca Indian Nation will resume sharing its casino revenues with New York state and the state will protect Seneca casinos from future competition, under a deal signed Thursday that settled a years-long dispute.
Under the agreement, three cities will receive money that the Senecas had withheld during the dispute: $89 million for Niagara Falls, $34.5 million for Salamanca and $15.5 million for Buffalo.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. announced the agreement at a news conference in Niagara Falls a day after Snyder flew to Albany for a final round of talks over the Senecas' contention that the state had violated terms of a contract under which the Senecas operate three casinos in Western New York.
Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder, left, shakes hands with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo after a news conference where they signed off on an agreement about casino gambling at the Conference and Events Center in Niagara Falls on Thursday.
"It was a legitimate disagreement from the Senecas' point of view," Cuomo said. "I always believed they had a significant point, that the state had violated the agreement, and I believe they had a bona fide bone of contention with state."
The Senecas said the placement of video lottery terminals inside three non-Indian racetracks, which then marketed themselves as casinos, violated a clause in the contract guaranteeing the Senecas exclusive rights to operate casinos in the region.
As a result, Seneca leaders in 2009 began withholding the state's promised share of slot machine revenues, part of which was to go to Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, where the Seneca casinos operate.
Thursday's agreement gives the cities full back pay. Also, the state will receive about $408 million and the Senecas will retain $209 million in withheld revenues and resume making regular annual payments to the state.
"We can move forward as two sovereigns to get a lot more business done," Snyder said.
The racetracks will continue to operate but western New York will be off-limits to future casinos that might be built as the state moves to legalize casinos off Indian land.
The financial windfall was welcome news to Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, whose city has struggled to pay for its hospital, schools, tourism promotion and keep up roads without its share of casino profits. He called it one of the happiest days of his life and thanked residents for "not going crazy" and throwing off negotiations.
The agreement with the Senecas was the third deal Cuomo has struck with an Indian nation in recent weeks to keep competition away from existing casinos in exchange for settling lingering disputes.
After quick agreements with the Oneidas and Mohawks, things hadn't initially gone as smoothly with the Senecas. Snyder last month called Cuomo a bully - something Cuomo reminded Snyder about Thursday, Snyder said.
"I said, 'Governor, if someone called me a bully, it would be a compliment,'" Snyder said.
The St. Regis Mohawks, which have withheld $59 million since 2010 in a similar dispute, signed an agreement with the state last month to preserve their exclusive casino territory in northern New York while paying the state $30 million in gambling proceeds that have been withheld.
The accord also opened the door to negotiations with the state and counties over Mohawk land claims near their reservation along the Canadian border.
Under the agreement with the Oneidas, the central New York tribe will receive exclusive territory for its Turning Stone casino and the state will get a cut of casino revenue. Also, local tax and land disputes would be resolved.
Associated Press writer Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.