Seneca Nation wants state to honor gaming compact

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As published on buffalonews.com, Another Voice: Seneca Nation wants state to honor gaming compact by Rickey L. Armstrong Sr., President, Seneca Nation of Indians

In a society of laws, rules and procedures matter and they apply to everyone, even the government. This includes the gaming compact signed by the Seneca Nation and New York State.

The compact, which went into effect in 2002, is rooted in federal law, namely the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Because IGRA prohibits a state from taxing a tribe in exchange for a compact, New York required a “revenue share agreement” whereby the Seneca Nation agreed to share a portion of slot machine revenues with New York State for 14 years. In exchange, New York State, again in keeping with IGRA, was obligated to provide something of equal value to the Seneca Nation, namely exclusivity and protection from competition.

The state wasted little time in diminishing the value of that exclusivity.

State-operated video lottery terminals were introduced within the nation’s exclusivity area in 2004 and remain to this day. State-regulated (and taxed) commercial casinos followed, including the siting of a casino minutes from the nation’s exclusivity zone – an operation that, as part of its application to the state, expressly aimed to cannibalize the Seneca Nation’s gaming revenues.

All the while, the nation fully honored our compact payment obligation for 14 years. New York State received more than $1 billion from the Seneca Nation while simultaneously profiting from the diminished value of the exclusivity we paid for and which the state was supposed to protect. What does this say about the state’s willingness to honor its agreements? Apparently not much.

This year, an arbitration panel determined that the nation’s payment obligation to New York State continues after Year 14 of the Compact, despite the fact that the compact has absolutely no language to this effect. “Amendment” means what it means, and the panel’s decision amends the compact.  

Under IGRA, all compact amendments must be reviewed and approved by the secretary of the interior. The nation, rightfully, requested that the Department of the Interior review the compact amendment. Conversely, New York State seems more than happy to, again, ignore process and obligation at the expense of the Seneca Nation.

Now, New York is considering the legalization of sports wagering. Our compacts would permit the Seneca Nation and other native nations in New York to offer this amenity to our gaming patrons, if passed. Some want the state to ignore that fact and somehow attempt to not include the Seneca casinos in the sports wagering equation. Thankfully, State Sen. Joseph Addabbo took the time to consult and include the native nations on an issue that could impact our gaming operations.

In asking for a federal review of the compact amendment, as required by law, and in considering the addition of sports wagering to our casino offerings, the Seneca Nation is simply trying to hold New York State to the deal that they made. We honored our obligation. The state should do the same.