Seneca Nation Accuses New York Of Forcing Payment To Resolve Gaming Compact Dispute

March 30, 2022
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The Seneca Nation claims New York officials employed coercive tactics to force a vote this week by the tribe’s council to pay the state almost $565m to resolve a gambling compact dispute.

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The Seneca Nation claims New York officials employed coercive tactics to force a vote this week by the tribe’s council to pay the state almost $565m to resolve a gambling compact dispute.

The vote occurred on Monday (March 28), and in a news release on Tuesday, the Seneca Nation claimed New York “in an act of blatant aggression” froze several of the tribe’s bank accounts.

“The Seneca Nation simply could not stand by while New York State intentionally attempted to hold the Seneca people and thousands of Western New Yorkers hostage,” said Matthew Pagels, president of the Seneca Nation.

“We will not let New York State strangle the people of Western New York,” Pagels said.

Pagels also demanded New York begin negotiations on a new gambling compact with the Seneca Nation.

An email requesting comment from Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul on Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Hochul’s husband, William J. Hochul, Jr., is a senior vice president and general counsel for Delaware North, which owns gaming licenses for racetracks in the northern New York towns of Finger Lakes and Hamburg.

The Seneca Nation claims both of those towns are in its exclusivity zone for gaming.

On January 13, Pagels announced the payment would be made after four years of unsuccessful legal challenges by the Seneca Nation.

Almost immediately, Seneca members objected, citing an ongoing federal investigation by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) into the legality of the payments.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 requires tribes to maintain the sole proprietary interest in their gaming operations, and there were questions about whether the Seneca Nation’s payments to New York were excessive.

In a March 11 letter to Seneca president Pagels, NIGC chief compliance officer Tom Cunningham said the tribe’s payments to New York complied with IGRA.

“It is clear that the State [of New York] has benefited substantially more than anticipated under the compact [with the Senecas] while the [Seneca] Nation has received less,” Cunningham wrote.

“Nevertheless, [gaming] exclusivity remains a benefit to the Nation and, as such, the revenue share does not, on its own, rise to the level of a sole proprietary interest violation.”

Cunningham ended his letter by saying the NIGC was closing its investigation and would not make a recommendation to NIGC chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to commence any enforcement proceedings.

A member of the Seneca Nation, who requested anonymity, complained the NIGC letter is another example of how “toothless” federal agencies are in failing to protect tribes from being “extorted” by states.

Mavis Harris, a communications specialist for the NIGC, said: “No comment at this time.”

A request for comment from the U.S. Department of the Interior was not immediately returned.

The current gambling compact between the Senecas and New York began in 2002 and is scheduled to expire next year.

The disputed payments extend from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2021.

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