AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR OUR COMMUNITY

For updates on the SNI response to Covid-19, click here to visit the Seneca Nation Coronavirus Response Hub.

To receive important updates via phone & text, click here and learn about the Regroup Messaging System.

If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath, or have any concerns about your health, call your primary care provider to be assessed. Patients of the Lionel R. John Health Center can call (716) 945-5894 and patients of the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Health Center can call (716) 532-5582.

SNI Sponsored Events Canceled Until Further Notice

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The Seneca Nation is responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of our members, residents, and employees and is taking precautions to reduce impact of COVID-19 on our community. By Executive Order, all Seneca Nation sponsored events are canceled until further notice. 

Seneca Nation Announces Temporary Closure of Gaming Facilities

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ALLEGANY TERRITORY, SALAMANCA, N.Y. – In the ongoing response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic locally, statewide and across the country, the Seneca Nation Council, in consultation with the Seneca Gaming Corporation and Seneca Gaming & Entertainment, has decided to suspend operations at all of the Nation’s gaming facilities, effective at 8 p.m. today. The directive applies to the Nation’s three casino resort properties in Niagara Falls, Salamanca, and Buffalo, as well as the Seneca Gaming & Entertainment operations in Irving, Salamanca, and Cuba.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented public safety situation that requires an unprecedented response,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. “Given the number of people who visit and work at our facilities, I believe it is in the best interest to suspend our gaming operations until further notice. We are keeping the health and safety of our workers, our guests and our communities above all else.”

In addition to the temporary suspension of its gaming operations, President Armstrong announced various temporary closures of on-territory facilities and changes to identified services, effective immediately. Essential services, such as the elders’ meal program, health services and emergency services will continue, but may be adjusted to reduce unnecessary contact.

“Our sole focus, as a Nation, is to do everything practicable to ensure the health and safety of every Seneca Nation member to the best of our ability,” said President Armstrong said. “We will do whatever possible and responsible to ensure that our people, particularly our elders, continue to receive the services they need. That is our commitment. The measures going into effect today, while significant, are, in our determination, necessary and appropriate to safeguard the health and welfare of our people and our territories with as little disruption to our people, including our Nation employees, and the quality of life on our territories as we can control.”

“As a unified Seneca community, it is incumbent upon each of us to adjust to the ongoing COVID-19 situation and to do everything we can to keep ourselves, our families and our territories safe while the full public response to this situation plays out,” President Armstrong added. “As we continue to work together, I am confident that the Seneca Nation, our people, and our territories will withstand this unprecedented public health event as strongly and effectively as possible.”

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Seneca Nation Reaches Agreement for Thruway Repairs on Cattaraugus Territory

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Allegany Territory (Salamanca, NY) – The Seneca Nation of Indians announced today that it has reached an agreement with the New York State Thruway Authority regarding long-needed repairs on the portion of the New York State Thruway that crosses the Nation’s Cattaraugus Territory.

“After multiple requests, the Seneca Nation was finally able to engage the New York State Thruway Authority in direct communication over the last several days regarding the deplorable condition of this stretch of Thruway,” said President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. “That direct communication resulted in a cooperative agreement, so that this work can finally begin.”

Today’s agreement follows a flurry of communication initiated over the past two weeks. The Nation’s Transportation Department sent a request to NYSTA Commissioner Matt Driscoll on September 12 to discuss the needed repairs. A second request was sent on September 17, after which the Nation received and reviewed information from NYSTA regarding its plans for making the repairs. The details of the final agreement were finalized between the two parties between late last week and today.

Thousands of motorists from across New York and beyond travel the approximately three-mile stretch of Thruway located on the Cattaraugus Territory every day. The highway is also an important route for commercial traffic.

“Motorists on our territories, whether Seneca or non-Seneca, New Yorkers or travelers from other areas, deserve the same safety and consideration as those who travel the rest of the New York State Thruway,” President Armstrong said. “New York State, not the Seneca Nation, receives toll revenue from everyone who travels this state roadway across our territory. The Seneca Nation wants to see these repairs completed. The Thruway Authority has indicated an aggressive work schedule for completing the first phase of repairs over the next several weeks. The Nation’s Transportation Department will coordinate with the Thruway Authority to make sure that happens.”

The agreement outlines two phases of work. The initial phase, which is expected to begin within the next few days, involves repairing the most dangerous sections of the Thruway. Phase 2, which should take no longer than ten weeks, involves a more thorough milling and paving project. The Nation and the Thruway Authority are working to complete all of the work before winter, but may have to schedule Phase 2 in the Spring of 2020, depending on weather conditions and the availability of asphalt to complete the project. 

In addition to the long-overdue Thruway repairs, the Nation is urging New York State to address other glaring transportation issues related to state roadways on Nation land, including poor road conditions in Salamanca.

“When the State engages the Nation in direct, respectful dialogue, we can make progress on issues of mutual interest, just as we have today and on other past projects,” President Armstrong added. “Now that we have come to an agreement on the Thruway, I hope the State will show the same urgency in prioritizing and addressing the poor condition of other state roadways that impact people’s daily lives. The safety of these roads and the people who travel them deserve the State’s attention, even if the roads don’t generate toll money for the State’s coffers.”

 

Department of Interior Invites Joint Submission from Seneca Nation, New York State Before Review of Compact Amendment Can Begin

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ALLEGANY TERRITORY, SALAMANCA, N.Y. – Citing a regulatory requirement that a State who is a party to a Compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), must “certify” an amendment submission to the United States Department of Interior (DOI), the Interior Department has informed the Seneca Nation that, as part of the submission, federal regulations require that New York State certifies that the Governor has the authority to enter into the amendment.

In April, two members of a three-person arbitration panel determined that the Seneca Nation was obligated to continue making revenue sharing payments to New York State after Year 14 of the Nation-State Gaming Compact, despite the complete absence of any language to that effect in the Compact, which went onto effect in 2002. By creating an obligation that did not previously exist, the panel’s ruling effectively amended the agreed upon terms of the Compact. Following federal law under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Nation requested that DOI review the amendment created by the panel’s ruling. The written response received from Interior indicates that, in order to review the amendment, the Department would have to receive a certification from New York State that the Governor had the authority to enter into the amendment.

“While we regret that we must return the proposed Arbitration Award, we look forward to a new submission that includes a complete set of documents in compliance with the requirements of 25 C.F.R. Part 293,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary John Tahsuda stated in his letter to the Seneca Nation.

“This action by the Department of Interior unfortunately fails to resolve the ongoing disagreement between the State of New York and the Seneca Nation. Without federal review, the amendment crafted by the arbitration panel remains unenforceable,” President Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr. said.

“Before notifying the State that our revenue share obligation had ended, we requested and received confirmation, in writing, that the Interior Department concurred with us that the Compact payment obligation ended after 14 years,” President Armstrong continued. “With that confirmation, the Seneca Nation leadership made a final payment to New York State in March 2017, completing our 14-year obligation.”

“Once the arbitration panel finalized its ruling, which amended the Compact, we moved expeditiously to submit our request to the Department of the Interior within a matter of days, in the hope that the Department would make a decision that would resolve this impasse once and for all. Instead, we were notified after seven weeks that the review process never even started.”

Upon receipt of the decision by Interior on Wednesday, the Seneca Nation filed suit in federal court to have the arbitration decision vacated for being inconsistent with federal law, or, in the alternative, staying enforcement until the Secretary of Interior reviews the amendment created by the arbitration decision and finds it consistent with IGRA. The motion filed by the Nation is consistent with the rules governing arbitration proceedings, which were agreed to by the State.

“You cannot simply skip past the fact that the arbitration decision and amendment must concur with federal law, and, right now, the amendment and the law conflict with one another,” President Armstrong said. “The only other alternative to resolve the matter would be for the Nation and the State to come to some agreement and jointly submit it to the Department of Interior for review. The Nation is open to those discussions.”

“Unfortunately, unless the Governor is willing to sit down with the Seneca Nation leadership to negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution that we could submit to the Department of Interior together, I am concerned that this litigation will continue for the foreseeable future, leaving the Seneca Nation and the local governments who benefit tremendously from our gaming operations in legal and financial limbo.”

Since the Seneca Nation began its gaming operations in 2002, the Nation has sent more than $1 Billion in revenue share contributions to Albany. The Seneca Nation has also invested more than $1 Billion to develop its casino properties in Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo. Today, the Nation’s casino operations employ approximately 4,000 workers, making Seneca Gaming Corporation one of the largest private employers in Western New York.

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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.

Seneca Nation Requests Federal Review of Compact Amendment

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ALLEGANY TERRITORY, SALAMANCA, N.Y. – Citing the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Seneca Nation is calling on the United States Department of the Interior to review a Compact amendment created by an arbitration panel, in accordance with federal procedure.

“The arbitration panel’s members, instead of interpreting the clear language of the Nation-State Compact, took it upon themselves to effectively and materially amend the agreed upon terms of the Compact, and they did so without regard for federal law and required procedures that govern both the Compact and the amendment process,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. “Their ruling creates an obligation on behalf of the Seneca Nation that does not exist in the Compact as it is written, or as was reviewed and deemed approved by the Secretary of Interior in 2002. To allow this amendment to take effect without review by the Department of Interior would undermine the process by which the federal government carries out its trust responsibility to the Seneca Nation, and other sovereign Nations across the country.” 

“The arbitration panel gave New York State, without the benefit of a negotiated agreement, or a review by the Department of Interior, more than a billion dollars in additional payments that they did not bargain for,” President Armstrong added. “We are obligated by federal law to submit such an amendment for review by the Department of Interior.”    

Pursuant to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which governs Nation-State Compacts, all amendments to Compacts must be reviewed and approved by the Secretary of Interior before they may be lawfully enforced, so that the Secretary of Interior may make a determination whether the amendment is consistent with the IGRA and with the trust obligations of the United States. 

The arbitration panel, despite finding that the Compact contains no provision requiring payments during years 15-21, created additional obligations that were never reviewed or approved by the Department of Interior, thereby  amending the Nation-State Compact and triggering the legal requirement to request Secretarial review.

“The Seneca Nation and the Seneca people deserve to have our agreements with other governments honored and protected, despite repeated and ongoing attempts to ignore, violate, and, in this case, blatantly change the agreements we have made. By exercising our right to request that the Department review the amendment, the Nation leadership is fulfilling our obligation to the Seneca people to always defend our sovereignty and the sanctity of our agreements.”

Since the Seneca Nation began its gaming operations in 2002, the Nation has sent more than $1 Billion in revenue share contributions to Albany. The Seneca Nation has also invested more than $1 Billion to develop its casino properties in Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo. Today, the Nation’s casino operations employ approximately 4,000 workers, making Seneca Gaming Corporation one of the largest private employers in Western New York.

Seneca Nation Statement on Final Compact Arbitration Ruling

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ALLEGANY TERRITORY, SALAMANCA, N.Y. – The Seneca Nation has issued the following statement in response to a final ruling issued by a three-person arbitration panel stating that the Nation’s slot revenue sharing payment obligation continues beyond Year 14 of its gaming Compact:

“As with the opinion issued earlier this year, two of the three arbitration panel members have determined that an obligation exists for the Nation to continue revenue share payments to the State beyond Year 14 of the Compact. The two panel members arrived at this conclusion despite the fact that no language exists in the Compact to make such a determination,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr.   

“In making this final ruling, the panel has effectively and materially amended the agreed upon terms of the Compact. It has done so in complete disregard of federal law that governs the Compact and without following the necessary federal procedures for making Compact amendments.”

“Simply put, the Compact is rooted in federal law and amending the Compact requires that proper procedures be followed. A majority of the panel members ignored both of these critical issues.”

“Once we have reviewed and discussed this ruling and our legal rights, we will determine a path forward.”

Since the Seneca Nation began its gaming operations in 2002, the Nation has sent more than $1 Billion in revenue share contributions to Albany. The Seneca Nation has also invested more than $1 Billion to develop its casino properties in Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo. Today, the Nation’s casino operations employ more than 4,000 workers, making Seneca Gaming Corporation one of the largest private employers in Western New York.

Seneca Nation Selects Arbitration Panel Representative

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CATTARAUGUS TERRITORY, IRVING, N.Y. – The Seneca Nation has selected a respected Indian Law scholar and former federal official as its designated representative for arbitration proceedings regarding the Nation’s gaming Compact with New York State.

The Nation officially named Kevin Washburn as its designated representative on the three-person arbitration panel. Washburn currently serves as a professor of law at the University of New Mexico Law School, where he previously served as Dean from July 2009-October 2012. He left the University to serve as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the United States Department of Interior, a position he held through December 2015. Throughout his career, Washburn has also served as General Counsel to the National Indian Gaming Commission, and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

“Mr. Washburn is a leading authority in the area of Indian Law and policy, and we are confident in his service as a member of the arbitration panel,” said Seneca Nation President Todd Gates. “He brings a deep understanding of the federal framework that governs all Native gaming compacts, compact obligations, and how state governments should interact with Native nations.”

Considered a preeminent scholar in federal Indian Law and Indian Gaming law, Washburn has provided testimony to numerous U.S. Senate and House committees on issues pertinent to Indian Country. In addition, he has taught at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, Harvard Law School, and the University of Minnesota Law School, and has published numerous works related to Indian Law and Indian Gaming.

The Nation’s selection of Washburn follows the completion in March of the Nation’s 14-year revenue share obligation under its gaming Compact. After refusing to meet with President Gates for six months following the Nation’s final obligated payment, New York State instead filed an arbitration demand in September.

According to the language of the Compact, the Nation agreed to pay a percentage of the slot machine revenue generated at its three casinos for a period of 14 years. The payment schedule and payment percentages prescribed in the Compact reads:

Years 1-4
18%, with “Year 1” commencing on the date on which
the first Gaming Facility established pursuant to this
Compact begins operation, and with Payments during
this initial period . . . to be made on an annual basis.
Years 5-7
22%, with payments during this period to be made on a
semi-annual basis.
Years 8-14
25%, with payments during this period to be made on a
quarterly basis.”

In the 14 years since opening Seneca Niagara Casino in 2002, the Seneca Nation sent more than $1.4 billion in payments to Albany, culminating with a final payment of more than $30 million in March.

A three-member arbitration panel will now be empaneled to hear and decide the dispute. As the Nation’s designated arbitration panel member, Washburn will work with New York State’s selected representative to select a third, mutually-agreeable panel member. The panel will then set a schedule for proceedings.

“It’s now been seven months since we fulfilled our Compact payment obligation. Arbitration was the path Governor Cuomo chose over dialogue,” President Gates said. “We are taking the next step. I hope that the State will work to keep the arbitration process moving so that the facts and foundation of the Compact can be presented to the arbitration panel, rather than clouded by political threats, rhetoric, insults and even jokes in the press. Getting the panel members in place is a step toward resolution. The Seneca Nation is ready.”

Seneca Nation Files Response to Arbitration Demand

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CATTARAUGUS TERRITORY, IRVING, N.Y. – The Seneca Nation has filed its
official response to the Arbitration Demand filed by New York State earlier this
month.

In the response filed today, the Nation asserts its compliance with the
provisions of the gaming Compact it signed with New York State in 2002, notably the
provisions related to the Nation’s 14-year revenue share obligation, which the Nation
fulfilled earlier this year.

According to the language of the Compact, the Nation agreed to pay a
percentage of the slot machine revenue generated at its three casinos for a period of
14 years. The payment schedule and payment percentages prescribed in the
Compact reads:

Years 1-4
18%, with “Year 1” commencing on the date on which
the first Gaming Facility established pursuant to this
Compact begins operation, and with Payments during
this initial period . . . to be made on an annual basis.
Years 5-7
22%, with payments during this period to be made on a
semi-annual basis.
Years 8-14
25%, with payments during this period to be made on a
quarterly basis.”

Since opening Seneca Niagara Casino in 2002, the Seneca Nation sent more
than $1.4 billion in payments to Albany. In accordance with the Compact, the Nation
made its final payment to New York State in March.

“The Seneca Nation has faithfully honored the agreement we negotiated and
signed in good faith in 2002,” said Seneca Nation President Todd Gates. “New York
State has a documented history of Compact violations, despite collecting more than
$1.4 billion from us over the past 14 years. Now, the state is trying to create a
reality that does not exist. You can’t change the rules 15 years into a 21-year
agreement. Enough with the political posturing and insults. Honor the agreement,
just as the Seneca Nation has done.”

According to the Nation’s filing, “The text of the Compact contains absolutely
no requirement for payments beyond those three payment periods. Nor does it set a
rate at which any such additional payments would be made. In its Demand for
Arbitration, the State makes no attempt to identify any provisions to this effect in
the Compact, and none exist.”

The arbitration filings come almost six months after the Nation made its final
required payment in late March. At that time, President Gates spoke directly with
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who asked President Gates if he would be willing to meet.
Governor Cuomo subsequently canceled two meetings with President Gates, one in
July and one in August.

“For the state to say that the Nation was not willing to meet is a blatant lie
and the height of hypocrisy,” President Gates added. “It was the state, and the
Governor specifically, who was unwilling to meet with me and engage in productive
dialogue. The Governor spent almost half a year avoiding meeting with me.”

A three-member arbitration panel will now be empaneled to hear arguments
on the matter. The Seneca Nation and New York State will each make a selection to
the arbitration panel, who will then select a third, mutually-agreeable panel member.

“While the Seneca Nation was open to dialogue, we are now moving forward
with the arbitration process initiated by the state,” President Gates said. “Arbitration
will allow the facts, not the Governor’s fictional narrative, to stand on their own.”

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