The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) is investigating whether Seneca Nation should pay up to $470 million to New York or it would be violating the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). NIGC’s involvement in the case between Seneca Nation and New York is just one twist in the legal battle between the two.
In 2002, the Seneca Nation and New York signed an agreement allowing Seneca to operate in the state for 14 years with an addition of seven more years. According to Seneca, it was supposed to pay a base revenue sharing for the first 14 years to the state and not the extra seven. However, the state disagrees, leading to a lengthy legal battle between the two.
The two tried arbitration which ruled Seneca had to continue paying 25 percent of the revenue to the state. The tribe did not agree with the ruling, leading to filing a suit in U.S. District Court in Western District in New York in June 2019. Seneca’s leader argued that the arbitration process did not consider Indian Gaming Regulatory Act while making its decision.
In February this year, a federal appeals court maintained the ruling against Seneca Nation. This means the tribe has to pay 25 percent of the revenue collected from its three casinos in New York.
NIGC Suggests Reviewing Payment Terms
Following the decision from the appeals court, the U.S. Department of Interior told tribal leaders that it had not done an economic assessment for the seven extra years, which is a violation under IGRA. The tribe asked the U.S District Judge William M. Skretny to pause his decision based on this finding.
Seneca has also notified the judge that it received a letter from Thomas Cunningham, NIGC Chief Compliance Officer. The letter notes that the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland, has referred the Seneca lawsuit to the NIGC. Cunningham told the tribes’ president that the commission is reviewing the amount paid to the state, with New York not giving anything in return.
Cunningham says that revenue share to the state is not meeting IGRA standards. The Seneca Nation has asked not to pay the requested revenue until NIGC reaches a decision.
New York Insists Seneca Nation Should Pay the Revenue
Lawyers representing the New York State insist that the tribe is taking its time to fabricate a financial difficulty to avoid paying its dues to the state. Working under White & Case LLP, Gregory Starner noted that the court and arbitrators had ruled on the issue, yet the tribe did not appeal to the Supreme Court.
The lawyer said the NIGC’s letter does not present facts indicating the tribe is having financial difficulties to prevent it from paying as per the judge’s ruling. Starner insists that the Nation should honor its part of the deal under the DOI Compact and the Judgement.
On Friday, Seneca Nation’s lawyer gave a copy of the Bryan Newland letter to the court. In the letter, Bryan notes that Seneca officials had advised the Interior Department of the court ruling in March. This ruling led to discovering the economic assessment of the issue.
Bryan also wrote that Interior officials had asked New York and the tribal Nation to provide a revenue-sharing to be reviewed. But, the state did not respond to the request. Without getting anything from the state, Seneca may be violating IGRA provisions.
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