NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- Indian Country Today editors sat down with Cyrus
Schindler, chairman of the Seneca Gaming Commission, in the management
offices of the Seneca Niagara Casino, not long after the opening of the
nation's second, of three casinos, on their Allegany territory in
Salamanca. Schindler, a former ironworker and construction supervisor and
president of the Seneca Nation during compact negotiations with New York's
Governor Pataki, talked openly about the compact, about the casino's
financing and management, and about Seneca Nation plans for the future.
Following is the third and final installment of the interview.
Indian Country Today: How does your tribal citizenry shape up now on the
subject of casinos? Has opinion really swung behind it?
Cyrus Schindler: I believe it has. And that's politics again too. You know,
criticizing it has put some Native people in business.
ICT: You can't live inside a cultural utopia. You have to be pragmatic
about what you have to deal with today.
Schindler: And people never really trusted. You always had 51 percent to 49
percent. I wanted to try to bring the people together, you know, and I had
people that went against me because I was in a certain [political] party,
but we're friends. Or I've had guys that we've been friends for years who
wouldn't even talk to me, and I told them don't let politics interfere with
Then people come in here who were saying casinos were going to do this and
going to do that. They come in here and after a minute, say: "Man, this
looks like a real casino. The Seneca Nation did this!" And we're showing
success. You know the proof is in the pudding.
ICT: You mentioned that out of your cash flow from the Seneca Niagara
Casino you built the Allegany Casino.
Schindler: Right. We built Allegany and we built the parking ramp and the
bus garage for Niagara.
ICT: So those are all debt free, those are all clear?
Schindler: Yes. And our Heron Room, our Turtle non-smoking room, Turtle
Island Room, and we're working on the Western Door Steakhouse.
ICT: And you just issued a bond that got swallowed up pretty quickly?
Schindler: Oh yeah, $300 million. From what I understand $1.2 billion was
offered. There were 147 people lined up to do this deal. Part of it was, is
that we invested in ourselves, 16 months we were in business.
ICT: Now where's that $300 million going? What will it be used for?
Schindler: That will be for our hotel here [in Niagara Falls]. We'll be
starting that in June. Also we will plan for the casino in Cheektowaga,
Erie County, Buffalo, whatever. Down to Allegany, we'll do some more work
there. It will take time. I'd love to build them all at once, but that's a
lot of debt to get into. And we built that little facility down there in
Allegany, like this one, and it starts generating its own money and it's
easier on you, and that's the way you look at it. If you look at how we
built this one, it starts generating its own money.
ICT: And when you built this one here too, you got it going in 100 days.
Was going for that Malaysian money part of that factor as well? Did you
folks have a sense of timing?
Schindler: Well, we just looked at how great it would be opening on New
Year's Eve. Nobody told us to do that. If you don't set deadlines, it drags
on. And then it's open and boom you're generating revenue. And that was
another thing. Get her open as soon as we can and let's start generating
some revenue so we can start doing these things.
ICT: We understand the Seneca Niagara Casino is outperforming what was
Schindler: Yes it is.
ICT: Tell us little more about your casino management. We understand you
didn't hire a management company, but did hire Mickey Brown. How did these
parties come together?
Schindler: When we got into working on the compact I visited a lot of other
nations and talked to other leaders who had casinos, asking, "What kind of
things would you do different?" One of the biggest things when you hire a
management company is you're locked into 15 years maybe, at maybe 30
percent, and to get rid of the contract you've got to buy them out. The
nation wouldn't really have the control over this facility like I believe
they should have, because you just got to turn the keys over to them, and
they're running your business for you. I think we saved something like $30
million or more last year by not having a management company.
So we hired Mickey Brown ourselves. He works directly for our corporation.
He is a paid employee. He's CEO, you know, just like he would have been if
working for a management company. But we didn't hire a development company.
His salary and that of his staff still come out of the casino. But there is
no 30 percent going to anyone but the Seneca.
And I didn't know Mickey Brown before, although a lot of people knew him.
Since '89, the Seneca have been trying to get gaming, and Barry Snyder who
was also president, said talk to Mickey Brown. You know, Mickey Brown did
Foxwoods. That's what you want to do, talk to different people. And Mickey
Brown likes the challenge of building something.
He brought all of our hired management. Some people he interviewed and then
people below him they had people that they know, and that they can deal
with too. The way I look at that is you're responsible for that guy. I
didn't hire him. So if he screws up I'm coming to you. And that's the chain
of command I look at.
ICT: You head up the Commission here as chairman, so you're Mickey Brown's
Schindler: And he's always been straight with me. Me and Mickey have bumped
heads a few times. We've had little growling matches, but he doesn't quit,
[chuckles] and I appreciate him for that. We don't go away mad. We work
things out. But he has his ideas, and I have mine. He's done what I feel we
asked him to do, and more than expected.
ICT: On the topic of taxation, how are the Seneca dealing with New York
Schindler: Well they keep passing their laws. And we're saying, there are
treaties written a long time ago, and they clearly spell out no taxation.
Well, [they say now] that means land taxes. The way I look at it is we're a
country within a country. We're at the same level as the United States.
Just because there's more of you, you took over, that's all there is.
But I still say, hey, I want to be a good neighbor. I tell people my job is
to make money for the Seneca Nation, but I can help your people too. We can
work together. But I'm not going to take casino money and give it to you
guys. I will help you develop around us, and employ your people. That
counts for something. These people didn't have a job before we came. And I
have nothing against anybody that goes into business to make all the money
they can. Nothing against that. It spills off. My thing is that [the Seneca Nation] is going to make Western New York bigger.