Senecas Drops Lawsuit, State Payments Set to Resume | Featured story

ALBANY — The Seneca Nation of Indians has agreed to settle its longstanding dispute over payments it makes to New York State from revenue from its Western York casino, but is seeking a new gambling pact with the state in exchange for the abandonment of his lawsuit. The Seneca Nation has also agreed to resume quarterly payments.

State officials said they believe the Seneca Nation owed about $435 million, with more than $100 million allocated to local governments, including Genesee and Livingston counties, among others. The funds were blocked during the conflict.

The Seneca Nation of Indians operates its three casinos under a pact originally signed with the state of New York in 2002. The pact gives the Seneca Nation of Indians exclusive rights to operate casinos in an area of 14 counties in the state known as “the Exclusivity Zone,” which was created to protect Seneca Nation casinos from commercial gambling competitors as gambling grew in the state. In exchange for this “exclusive zone,” the Seneca Nation pays New York State 25% of its slot machine revenue, which the state then shares a percentage of that revenue with local governments in the area. exclusivity, including the host communities of Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo.

“We commend Governor Hochul and the Seneca Nation of Indians for working together to resolve this long dispute and for planning to open discussions on a new compact,” Livingston County Administrator Ian M said. Coyle, in a statement. “As one of the local governments in the exclusive area, we look forward to replenishing the county budget with our share of casino revenue withheld during the dispute.”

An estimated amount was not available Friday, though Coyle said when the county briefly received payments they were about $450,000 a year.

The payments are considered “general purpose revenue,” Coyle said, like sales tax, and can be allocated by the county for any general fund purpose.

Some municipalities, such as the cities of Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, and Monroe and Erie counties received millions in annual payments.

Seneca Nation leaders announced the deal on the night of Jan. 13. Discussions on the new pact were to begin within 60 days.

“Rather than pursue ongoing legal action, we believe we can now better address our concerns in a compact with greater clarity about our obligations and, equally important, New York State’s obligations to the Nation in return,” Seneca Nationa President Matthew Pagels said. said in a press release. “Furthermore, we want to see the momentum generated by our investments and operations continue to grow, and we look forward to building on our strong relationships with our neighbors in Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo. Now is the time to move forward. »

Governor Kathy Hochul also released a statement Jan. 13 saying she was pleased to have reached an agreement to resume payments “on terms that serve both the state and the nation and benefit the communities of western New York”.

“I look forward to starting discussions for a new pact,” she said.

As part of the agreement, Seneca executives say they will “realize more than $40 million in disputed fees and cost savings over the remaining life of the current pact,” which expires in December 2023.

Since signing the current pact in 2002, the Seneca Nation says it has invested more than $1 billion to develop the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino in Salamanca, and the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in the center. -city of Buffalo, and has delivered more than $1.4 billion in revenue-sharing payments to Albany. Today, casinos employ around 3,000 people and attract millions of visitors each year.

In April, the Seneca Nation launched an attempt to overturn an arbitration panel ruling that the tribe must make required revenue-sharing payments to New York State and host communities. , during the renewal period of the pact between the nation and the state which authorized casino games.

The Nation filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York in Buffalo seeking “relief” from a November 2019 ruling by Senior U.S. District Court Judge William Skretny who found that the group’s decision arbitration panel was valid and ordered the Senecas to make the payments binding on the state.

The nation appealed the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, which in February unanimously upheld Skretny’s decision. The unanimous appeals court ruling made an appeal by the Seneca to the U.S. Supreme Court unlikely to succeed.

The Senecas’ latest ruling claimed that an April 15 letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior raised questions about the legality of revenue-sharing payments during the automatic renewal phase of the pact.

The pact’s renewal period began in December 2016, with no objection from the state or the Senecas.

When it went into effect on December 9, 2002, the pact called for the Senecas to have exclusive rights to operate certain types of slot machines in Western New York. In return, the state was to receive a percentage share (from 18% to 25%) of the revenue generated by these slot machines.

The state then shared a percentage of these casino revenues with the local host municipalities where the gambling operations took place. Specifically, in the falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

In March 2017, Seneca Nation President Todd Gates told Cuomo that revenue-sharing payments would end because they weren’t required under the pact after the first 14 years. In those first 14 years, the state had received $1.4 billion in payments.

Under the terms of the pact, the state took the Senecas to binding arbitration to determine whether revenue sharing should continue. A panel of three arbitrators, voting 2 to 1, determined that the Senecas were responsible for maintaining the revenue-sharing payments and ordered the payments resumed.

In its decision, the arbitration panel concluded that it would be “unreasonable” and “contrary to common sense” to conclude that the Senecas were not liable for revenue sharing during the extended term of the pact.

The Nation and State then went to federal court in Buffalo, where the Nation asked that the arbitrator’s decision be thrown out and that the decision be enforced.

Following Skretny’s ruling upholding the arbitration panel’s decision, the appeals court ruled that “the arbitration panel did not manifestly disregard applicable law” and that the courts did not no need to refer the matter to the US Secretary of the Interior for review, as the interpretation of contract terms is a matter left to the courts.

Since revenue-sharing payments were suspended, the state government has provided advances of that money to the Falls city government. If the Senecas resume payments, those cash advances will be withheld by the state.

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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