About 200 people supporting the Seneca Nation marched in the streets of Buffalo, New York, last week as the tribe’s bitter conflict with Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul over gaming revenue continues to escalate.
The demonstrators protested what they called Hochul’s hardball methods in collecting almost $565m in gaming revenue payments from the Senecas.
“The process that New York state used to extract that money from the Seneca Nation and the governor’s glorification of that behavior is the real issue,” Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email on April 14, the day before the demonstration in Buffalo.
Pagels said the governor “willingly put people at risk because she had a budget coming due and she had a stadium deal that she wanted to boast about.”
Upon receiving the money from the Seneca Nation, Governor Hochul announced on March 29 that the dispute was settled.
The governor also cited a series of court rulings that denied the Seneca Nation’s appeals objecting to the state’s demands.
The final payment includes $418m, which will be set aside for the construction of a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League.
"This will ensure the Bills remain in New York state and support 10,000 construction jobs,” Hochul said.
Since December 2002, the Seneca Nation has received at least $7.5bn from slot machines and table games in its New York casinos, according to a source in the governor’s office.
Despite the governor’s statement that the dispute is over, the protest in Buffalo on April 15 indicates the Seneca Nation is not willing to let bygones be bygones.
“We know, through public records, that members of the governor’s administration have met with Delaware North’s lobbyists to talk about the Seneca Nation’s compact,” Pagels said.
Delaware North operates gaming venues in the same exclusivity zone that the Senecas negotiated and paid for 20 years ago, according to Pagels.
Hochul’s husband, William J. Hochul Jr., is the senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of Delaware North.
“The only thing that’s clear is that there are too many questions, too many concerns and not enough truth from the Hochul administration right now,” Pagels said.
Delaware North denies any conflict of interest involving the governor’s husband.
“Delaware North implemented a robust recusal process for Bill Hochul regarding our business in New York based on the advice of expert outside ethics counsel,” Glen White, director of corporate communications for Delaware North, told VIXIO in an email.
“Mr. Hochul is recused from all elements of our work in New York,” White said.
On August 23, 2021, the day before she succeeded Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who had resigned as governor because of sexual harassment allegations, Hochul signed a statement for the State of New York Executive Chamber.
In her statement, Hochul said she would recuse herself from “any and all matters related to Delaware North.”
New York is another example of states becoming more aggressive in pressuring tribes to increase payments from their gaming revenue.
Republican Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, who like Hochul is up for election in November, failed in his effort to renegotiate compacts to increase his state’s share of casino gaming revenue.
This trend can be traced back 26 years ago to the historic 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court prohibiting tribes from suing states to force them to negotiate gambling compacts in good faith.
Bruce Rogow, the attorney who represented the Seminole Tribe against the state of Florida in the landmark 1996 case, said the decision could have made a dramatic difference for Indian gaming.
“It would have given tribes a very strong hand in dealing with the states,” said Rogow, a founding professor of law at Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida.
“The 11th Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution) limited the tribe’s ability to force Florida’s hand. One vote made the difference between opening and closing an important door for Indian tribes vis a vis gaming,” Rogow said.
Kathryn Rand, a law professor at the University of North Dakota School of Law, said the 1996 decision dilutes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988 by removing checks on states demanding more revenue from tribes.
“As a result, in nearly all states — with the exception of California which has waived its sovereign immunity to allow suits under IGRA — there is no ‘referee’ to help tribes and states determine what amounts and types of revenue sharing are within the bounds of good-faith negotiations,” Rand said.