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.