After losing tax payments in one gaming region, Yates County is hoping to join another.
A bill introduced by state Sen. Thomas O'Mara would add the county to Region 5 for gaming purposes. The region consists of Broome, Seneca, Tioga and Tompkins counties. Portions of Chemung, Schuyler and Wayne counties east of Route 14 are also in the region.
O'Mara, R-Big Flats, said in a phone interview Friday that he authored the legislation after discussions with Yates County officials. County leaders questioned why they weren't included in Region 5 like other counties along the Route 14 corridor.
"It's an effort to make them the same," O'Mara said.
Region 5 is home to two casinos, del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County and Tioga Downs Casino in Tioga County. If Yates is added to the region, it would receive a share of both casinos' tax payments.
Casinos pay a 37 percent tax on slot machine revenue and 10 percent on table game revenue. The state keeps 80 percent of the tax revenues for education aid and property tax relief. Ten percent of the funds are shared by the casino's host municipality and host county. The remaining 10 percent is given to the non-host counties in the region.
The percentage each non-host county receives is based on its population. For Chemung, Schuyler and Wayne counties, the formula uses the population in each county that is east of Route 14.
The push to add Yates to Region 5 began after the county stopped receiving payments from the Seneca Indian Nation. The county is currently in Region 6, which falls within the Senecas' exclusive gaming zone designated by the state.
Records show that from mid-2014 through the first quarter of 2017, Yates County received $413,818.01 from the state Gaming Commission. The payments were the county's share of the Senecas' gaming revenue.
Once the Senecas stopped the payments at the end of 2016, Yates and other counties lost a revenue source.
Yates County Treasurer Winona Flynn said in a phone interview Tuesday that the Senecas' payments helped offset county taxes.
"For Yates County, that is a lot of money for us to lose," she said.
After the Senecas' payments halted, Flynn contacted the state to determine why the county was excluded from Region 5 despite having some land east of Route 14. She thought the county should be eligible considering other counties along the Route 14 corridor that neighbor Yates are part of the region.
The current version of O'Mara's bill calls for removing Yates County from Region 6 and placing the entire county in Region 5. But he said he's in the process of amending the bill to place only the portion of Yates County east of Route 14 in Region 5.
Like Flynn, O'Mara isn't sure why the county wasn't included in Region 5 from the start.
"I think it would definitely be beneficial for the county," he said. "I haven't gotten a real straight answer as to why it wasn't done that way to begin with. We're trying to figure that out. We're trying to figure out what the benefit of those revenues might be."
If Yates is added to Region 5, it likely won't receive the same amount it was getting from the Senecas. Flynn said Yates' share of the tribe's gaming revenues was approximately $140,000 a year. The county's average quarterly share was more than $34,000.
With only a sliver of Yates east of Route 14, the county's share of the del Lago and Tioga Downs tax payments would likely be considerably less.
Flynn acknowledged that the county would be "better off" if the state can reach an agreement with the Senecas, but that doesn't appear likely. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to allow construction of a non-Indian casino in Niagara Falls not far from one of the Senecas' casinos.
In the absence of an agreement between the state and the Senecas, Yates views Region 5 as its best opportunity get some gaming revenue.
"Getting a little bit is better than nothing," Flynn said.