On March 28, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced an agreement between New York State, Erie County and the NFL's Buffalo Bills franchise for a $1.4 billion new stadium in Orchard Park.
The Governor’s negotiations among all parties secured a 30-year commitment for the Bills to remain in Buffalo and a combined $550 million from the NFL and Bills, which was approved by NFL owners.
Hochul will advance a $600 million proposal in the state budget (still not approved and finalized, despite an initial April 1 deadline), and Erie County will contribute $250 million. The economic and tax impacts generated from the team, officials claim, will support more than 100 percent of the public share of the new stadium cost.
The finalized budget also could include measures to accelerate bids for downstate casinos.
“I went into these negotiations trying to answer three questions — how long can we keep the Bills in Buffalo, how can we make sure this project benefits the hard-working men and women of Western New York and how can we get the best deal for taxpayers?” Hochul said at the time of the announcement. “I’m pleased that after months of negotiations, we’ve come out with the best answers possible — the Bills will stay in Buffalo for another 30 years, the project will create 10,000 union jobs, and New Yorkers can rest assured that their investment will be recouped by the economic activity the team generates.”
However, one important community in the region does not agree with the decision.
Seneca Nation Fights Back
The Seneca Nation is spending tens of thousands of dollars on media ads criticizing Hochul for committing long-disputed Seneca casino revenue toward building a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, according to a report on SpectrumNews1.
Brick and mortar casinos have been up and running in New York, but the state does not yet have online casinos.
A spokesperson for the Senecas said the television commercials are running only in the Buffalo media market while the radio spots are targeted at select areas of upstate New York.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filings show purchases in the Buffalo and Albany regions with commercials already running this week. The current TV buys run for a week or so while the radio spots will run until April 18, according to the report.
“The state of New York just received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Seneca Nation,” the radio commercial begins. “The additional funding gave Gov. Hochul a great opportunity to help repair our roads, build hospitals, fix our bridges and support our schools. What did she do instead? She gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to build a football stadium for the NFL.”
The ad does not focus on how the state received the money, but rather how it plans to use it.
The radio ad’s narrator intones: “We're football fans, but with skyrocketing inflation and stretched budgets, handouts for the NFL, which makes billions of dollars in profit every year, is the wrong way to use this money.”
In the ad, the Senecas pinpoint a concern that is now the focus of an ethics complaint against the governor.
“There’s also a serious conflict of interest for Gov. Hochul,” the ad reads. “The governor’s husband serves as a senior executive for a company (Delaware North) that stands to make millions of dollars selling concessions in the new stadium. This is just the latest chapter in the state of New York’s long history of misusing public funds. The NFL gets a new stadium. New Yorkers pay the price. Gov. Hochul, New York deserves better!”
End of ad.
William J. Hochul is a senior vice president and legal counsel for Delaware North.
Most Recent Action
Late last month, the state took action to freeze various corporate banking accounts for the Seneca Nation, essentially forcing the Senecas to turn over nearly $565 million in back payments as part of a slot machine revenue sharing deal in its compact with the state.
For close to five years, the Senecas had argued they no longer were required to make those payments, but after an arbitration panel disagreed and several courts held up the binding arbitration, they agreed to make the payments earlier this year.
The state said it decided to freeze the accounts, which the nation believed was an overly heavy-handed action, after the nation missed another deadline. The Senecas said they were waiting for a final ruling on the legality of the compact from the federal Department of the Interior.
According to the Spectrum News1 report, Hochul's office has said Delaware North had nothing to do with the stadium negotiations, nor is it guaranteed the company will continue to contract with the Bills in the future. In a Buffalo News story in October, Gov. Hochul said she had put in writing that she had recused herself for any business with Delaware North.
According to a release from Gov. Hochul’s office, the Bills have been a proven economic driver for the Buffalo region and the state. The report said the Bills generating $27 million annually in direct income, sales and use taxes for New York State, Erie County and Buffalo.
The governor’s office speculates these revenues will grow and will amount to more than $1.6 billion over the 30-year lease period. Also, fans who attend games from across the state, the U.S. and Canada and spend money locally that would not otherwise be spent in the region will result in an economic impact of more than $385 million annually.
The Bills are considered a Super Bowl favorite in 2022-23. They won the AFC East Division last season and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in heartbreaking fashion, 42-36, in overtime in the AFC divisional round.