ALBANY - State Sen. Mike Nozzolio, R-Fayette, said Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has not wavered from his July 2001 agreement to help restrict the Cayuga Indian Nation from building a casino in New York.
"His commitment has not changed," Nozzolio said Tuesday, when asked why Bruno had met earlier this year with key Seneca-Cayuga officials interested in placing a casino at the north end of Cayuga Lake.
Bruno did not return phone messages seeking comment.
Nozzolio secured the agreement from Bruno, R-Troy, two summers ago as the Senate discussed a compact that would allow the Seneca Nation to operate three casinos in western New York. Under the agreement, a casino compact for the Cayugas would be dead on arrival in the Senate.
On Nov. 20, Caywil New York LLP - which shares the same address as Rochester mall developer Wilmorite - purchased 229 acres in Montezuma and Aurelius on behalf of the Seneca-Cayugas of Oklahoma from Todd Mirabito for $754,554. Caywil has had an exclusive deal with the tribe to develop a New York casino since August 2001.
That follows revelations that Seneca-Cayuga Chief LeRoy Howard and Thomas Wilmot, Sr., chairman of Wilmorite and president of Caywil, met individually with Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, last March and April.
Nozzolio is unaware of any meetings that may have occurred between Bruno, the Oklahoma Cayugas and Wilmot, he said, but is certain the majority leader has made no concessions. "I can say there were no negotiations" between Bruno and the Seneca-Cayugas regarding casinos within Nozzolio's district, Nozzolio said.
Some confusion may exist, Nozzolio admitted, regarding discussions between potential Seneca Nation gaming proposals and state leaders. "Sen. Bruno met with the Senecas last year on their proposed operations in the Buffalo area. That's where some of the confusion may lie," he said. "There was discussion relative at the time, about two years ago, that there was a potential for Seneca operations in western New York, not Cayuga operations in the Finger Lakes."
While the Seneca-Cayugas, one of three Native American groups suing for the return of 64,027 acres of former reservation land in Cayuga and Seneca counties, notified the governor's office of its interest in opening a casino in the Finger Lakes region last April - even offering to swap its share of a $428 million settlement for the right to build one - Nozzolio said expressing intent means little.
"It is very clear that the governor has no interest in providing or establishing any gaming contracts with an out-of state tribe," he said.
Gov. George Pataki must also negotiate and approve a gaming compact with the Cayugas. Recent state agreements with the Seneca and Mohawk nations and limits set by Pataki on the number of Indian-run casinos in the state do not bode well for a Cayuga proposal.
Nozzolio will continue to lobby against a proposed casino or granting the Seneca-Cayugas of Oklahoma Cayugas sovereign status in New York by "opposing the land claim and continuing to appeal federal court decisions that have favored the Cayugas," he said, The battle "will be decided on the federal level," he added.
Regulations required to open an Indian-run casino can take years. The process begins with the tribe acquiring recognition by the U.S. secretary of the Interior. A key element in the process is to establish a land-base taken into trust by the federal government. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires that land taken into trust benefit the tribe, not be detrimental to the surroundings and be approved by the governor.
"That is where Sen. Schumer's comments in opposition will be extremely important," Nozzolio said, referring to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer's declaration that if area residents oppose a casino, he will fight it. " Certainly, we will look to him to lead the opposition at the federal level."