Senecas outline plans
By Frank Rizzo
MONTICELLO The Seneca Nation of Indians renewed its pitch to gain local approval for a Class III casino near Monticello at Tuesday’s Town of Thompson board meeting.
The tribe had previously rejected Thompson’s demands for a local services agreement in which it would give the same amount as the other tribes vying for casinos $15 million to the county and $1.65 million to the Town of Thompson.
Through its partner, Rotate Black Gaming, the Senecas bought 63 acres in Bridgeville, just south of Exit 107 on Route 17.
Supervisor Tony Cellini noted that the Senecas is the only “nation to have a compact with the state of New York.”
Seneca Gaming Corp., the gambling arm of the Senecas, operates casinos in Salamanca, Niagara Falls and in downtown Buffalo.
A draft agreement is being negotiated between the county and the Senecas.
“We’re in discussion,” said County Attorney Sam Yasgur. “They have their proposals and I have my responses. That’s where we are right now. When it’s appropriate, I’ll present it to the legislators.”
When fully complete, the proposed project would include two million square feet of space, 6,000 slot machines, 120 table games, an indoor, 1,500-room hotel, 12 restaurants, a 5,000-seat arena and 100,000 square feet of banquet space.
Robert Odawi Porter, senior policy advisor and council to the Senecas, touted what he called his tribe’s “Strong relationship with th City of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. We realize it requires a real partnership with the local communities, working together to solve problems.”
The nation’s casinos in Western New York, according to Porter, have contributed nearly half a billion dollars to the state, 25 percent of which is sent back to the local governments.
Asked about the effects of the current economic downturn on their operations, Michael John of the tribe acknowledged earnings have slipped, but, “Depression, recession, whatever you want to call it, we’re still making millions. We’re [performing] above the [gaming] market.”
Porter said that the tribe would try a political approach to get casino approval, going directly to Congress.
Former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne rejected the St. Regis Mohawks’ bid to take their land at Monticello Raceway into trust, effectively killing their casino plans.
Empire, Mohawks reuniting
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Empire Resorts’ new restructuring officer, Eric Reehl, plans to bring the company back to profitability and that may once again include the St. Regis Mohawks.
“The company has a solid asset base and significant growth potential given its existing cash flow from VGM [video gaming machine] and racing operations at the Monticello Casino and Raceway, future anticipated revenues from the Concord Hotel & Resort, the possibility of a St. Regis Mohawk Tribe class III gaming project, and possible future legalization of commercial gaming in Sullivan County,” said Reehl in a press release issued yesterday. “There is also the potential of developing the 230-acre raceway site along with the expansion of gaming in the Catskills.”
Reehl, who holds a BBA in finance and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, was once the senior bankruptcy and restructuring advisor with Ernst and Young’s Corporate Finance Restructuring Group in New York and now serves as acting CFO for Park Avenue Bank in NYC.
He also was one of three managing directors in corporate finance and asset-backed lending at Plainfield Asset Management LLC, involved in lending and investing opportunities and corporate acquisitions in bankruptcy proceedings.
Reehl’s primary duty with Empire will be to negotiate debt restructuring with the company’s noteholders, who have $65 million of notes they can start cashing in this summer, and the Bank of Scotland, which holds approximately $7.5 million in a revolving first mortgage credit facility.
“I believe it is in the best interest of all parties to come to a quick settlement and that we shall be successful in this endeavor,” he said in yesterday’s statement. “... I am glad to be able to share Empire's long-term vision and look forward to working closely with the company's board, management and creditors to make the collective vision a reality for all concerned.”
Whether that will include the Mohawks or not has yet to be hammered out between the two entities, but talks are evidently ongoing, and the Mohawks have said this week that they’re interested in reviving their Catskills casino plans.