Seneca Nation

LG Agrees Stretch Of Thruway Through Seneca Territory Needs To Be Fixed

Regardless of political affiliation, Western New York politicians seem to agree a portion of the NYS Thruway which runs through Seneca Nation territory needs to be fixed.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said she recently investigated the stretch near Chautauqua County herself. She said it is being addressed at the highest levels of state government.

“We want to get that road fixed,” Hochul said. “I have traveled on that road. It needs work. The motorists who travel the Thruway deserve better.”

The lieutenant governor discussed the deteriorating road with reporters a day after Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-25, called on the governor to take care of it. Reed said it has become dangerous to motorists and he believes the governor’s office is not rehabilitating the stretch because of non-related political reason, like the ongoing dispute between the Senecas and the state over casino revenue.

“The dispute is independent from this,” Hochul said. “That is going on and has been going on.”

She reaffirmed a statement from the Thruway Authority that the state is working with the Seneca Nation toward moving forward with repairs. Hochul did not say specifically what is backing things up but pointed out the Thruway runs through sovereign territory where the state can not simply bring in contractors.

She maintained things are being “worked out” though.

“A lot of it has to even just do with pothole repair so it doesn’t take a year to do,” Hochul said.

The LG said she could not give a firm timeline because it depends on the work needed, and how much can potentially be done before the season changes.

State Transfers $5 Million To Niagara Falls As Casino Dispute Continues

Earlier this week, the state of New York transferred $5 million to the city of Niagara Falls to help alleviate cash flow issues.

It is part of the $12.3 million the governor promised the city in September 2018. The shortfall comes as the Seneca Nation of Indians has refused, now for more than two years, to pay a portion of its slot machine revenue to the state in exchange for gaming exclusivity.

The Senecas argued it’s obligation is up under a compact with the state but an arbitration panel ruled that was not the case. They now want a federal judge to vacate that ruling.

“Fair is fair. The arbitrators said they owe the state of New York at the time $225 million. The meter is still running. Those numbers are only going up,” Hochul said.

Once the state receives funds from the Nation, it shares them with the three cities where the casinos are located, Buffalo, Salamanca and Niagara Falls. Hochul said Buffalo and Salamanca could potentially see advances come their way as well.

“Certainly conversations are ongoing,” she said. “We don’t want to leave any of these communities hanging and Niagara Falls was particularly hard hit.”

Hochul said the $12.3 promised to Niagara Falls was to be transferred as needed at the city’s request. There’s no timetable on when the city might get the remaining $7.3 million and that will be allocated “upon conference with the city comptroller, the state comptroller and others.”

“We have to get this resolved,” Hochul said. “I don’t have an answer right now in terms of a timing because this has to happen as soon as possible and we are doing everything we can as an administration to force that to occur.”

The Seneca Nation has indicated it has no plans to make payments while the litigation is ongoing. It has also asked the Department of Interior to review if the arbitration panel made an illegal amendment to the compact in its judgement.

Seneca Casinos Preparing To Start Sports Betting

The Seneca Nation of Indians said Monday it is preparing to bring sports betting in its casinos, although the timeline isn’t clear yet.

Last week, the New York Gaming Commission approved rules and regulations for licensing, owning and operating sports gaming facilities. The rules apply only to the four Upstate casinos and Native American facilities and wagers must be placed in person.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on sports betting last year, effectively opening up the industry outside of the state of Nevada. However, while the move does not come as a big surprise, the Senecas had remained relatively quiet about their plans, waiting for New York State to work out its regulatory structure.

“Now that regulations for in-person sports betting have been approved in New York, the Seneca Nation will move forward accordingly with our preparations to offer this new and exciting amenity to our casino guests. As we always have, we will ensure that our operations offer our guests the best atmosphere and experience available anywhere in the region,” spokesperson Phil Pantano said.

The state Legislature is still weighing expanding the industry to allow online and mobile betting, as well as wagers at off-track betting and race track facilities. The governor has repeatedly voiced skepticism about whether a deal can get done this year and questioned the constitutionality of the bill.

A source said the legislation still appears to have some life though in the final days of session. The Senecas, who could potentially have some exclusivity rights in their region, said they are in favor.

“While we make these preparations, we will also continue to monitor discussions surrounding the potential for mobile sports wagering in New York, which we feel will elevate the guest experience and excitement even further,” Pantano said.

The Senecas own and operate gaming facilities in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca. Otherwise, as the law currently stands, del Lago in the Finger Lakes would be the closest casino where someone from Western New York could place a wager in person.

Seneca Nation Files Federal Motion To Vacate Casino Arbitration

The Seneca Nation of Indians wants a federal judge to vacate an arbitration panel ruling from earlier this year, requiring it to continue to share casino revenues with New York State.

Upon receiving the decision, which also determined the Nation owed more than $255 million in back pay, it asked the federal Department of Interior to conduct a review. The Senecas believe the arbitration panel made what amounted to an amendment to a 2002 compact in ruling the Senecas owed the state money despite the fact payments for the final seven-years of the 21-year deal were not explicitly spelled out in the document.

This week, however, the Department of Interior notified the Senecas it could not review the arbitration without a joint submission from the Nation and the state. In response, the Senecas filed a motion in federal court Thursday asking a judge to either vacate the arbitration or delay enforcement until the Department of Interior does conduct a review.

“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,” Seneca President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. 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.”

Furthermore, Armstrong said the Nation did reach out to the Interior Department which agreed it did not have an obligation to pay the state after year 14. The Senecas made their last payment in March of 2017.

“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,” Armstrong said. “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.”

Meanwhile, Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca have all budgeted this year in expectation of receiving a portion of the casino payments once the state receives them. The Senecas have indicated they don’t plan to pay that money at least until they’ve exhausted legal avenues.

“This is nothing more than another stall tactic from the Seneca Nation as they continue to move the goal posts to avoid paying their obligations under a process that they signed on to. The arbitration panel ruled in favor of the State months ago and the Seneca Nation needs to start paying what’s owed to these local communities without any further delay,” Jason Conwall, a spokesperson for the governor, said.

Senecas Take Casino Dispute To Department Of Interior

From the Morning Memo:

The Seneca Nation of Indians is calling on the U.S. Department of Interior to review an arbitration panel’s decision in regards to an ongoing dispute over casino revenue sharing.

The panel ruled the Senecas are required to continue to pay a portion of slot machine revenue to the state, and also make two years in back payments. It was determined last week that those payments total more than $255 million.

The Nation, however, quickly indicated it did not plan to pay until it had explored legal options. Although the arbitration was the defined legal process to resolve disputes in their compact with the state, Seneca leaders believed this panel improperly amended the compact without permission in its ruling.

They said the panel created obligations to make payments for years 15-21 of the compact despite the fact those payments were not explicitly spelled out in the document.

“The Seneca Nation and the Seneca people deserve to have our agreements with other governments honored and protected, despite repeated and ongoing attempts to ignore, violate, and, in this case, blatantly change the agreements we have made. By exercising our right to request that the Department review the amendment, the Nation leadership is fulfilling our obligation to the Seneca people to always defend our sovereignty and the sanctity of our agreements,” President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. said.

He said, according to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, all amendments to compacts must be reviewed by the Secretary of the Interior before they can lawfully be enforced. It’s unclear if and when the federal government will take up the issue.

The state has not commented on the recent developments.

Moody’s: Seneca Arbitration Decision ‘Credit Positive’ For WNY Cities

From the Morning Memo:

Moody’s Investors Services said last week’s resolution in an arbitration between the state and the Seneca of Nation of Indians will have a positive financial impact on three Western New York cities.

The arbitration panel ruled the Senecas must continue to pay the state a percentage of the nation’s slot machine revenues, as well as nearly two years of back payments. Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca will all receive funding they have been due but were not receiving while this battle was being waged.

Of the three cities, Niagara Falls was in the worst financial shape, with a negative rating from Moody’s. While, the rating service’s declaration of “credit positive” does not automatically mean there will be an imminent credit rating or outlook change, it is a recognition of a significant event for the city.

“In particular, the ruling will greatly improve the financial position of the City of Niagara Falls (Baa3 negative), which relies heavily on Seneca Nation revenue-sharing funds to support operations,” the report reads.

Moody’s noted Salamanca also relies heavily on the funding, but was in a better financial position than Niagara Falls at the outset of this prolonged fight. The service pointed out that only some of the lost casino revenue could be made up from a property tax increase, so cuts would’ve been needed had the arbitration not ended up the way it did.

“Had the Seneca Nation won the arbitration and refused to make payments to these cities going forward, both cities would have faced significant financial uncertainty,” Moody’s said.

The report said even though the amount of money Buffalo received was small compared to the city’s total budget, it had still “struggled to maintain balanced operations, and any loss of recurring revenue can be difficult to absorb.”

Falls Leaders Happy About Casino Money, But Want To Be Careful Spending It

From the Morning Memo:

Leaders of the cash-strapped city of Niagara Falls welcomed the news that an arbitration panel had ruled in favor of the state in a long-running dispute with the Seneca Nation of Indians over casino payments.

The Senecas hadn’t paid the state a portion of casino slot machine revenues for the better part of the last year. Among the three cities where the tribal casinos are located, the Falls is supposed to get the largest portion of that funding.

Without it, the city faced a major budget gap this year, and the state had even promised to provide an additional $12 million to cover it. Mayor Paul Dyster said that backup plan does not appear to be needed now, so long as the Nation makes overdue payments in a timely fashion.

The mayor said it was a good day, but cautioned the city has to become less reliant on casino funds with the current deal between the state and the Senecas running out at the end of 2023.

“We’re trying to deliver services and keep taxes down, and that’s a trade-off the administration and city council have to work out year by year in the budget process,” he said.

City Council Member Chris Voccio said by 2020, none of the Seneca money, which has been roughly $20 millionin recent years, should be part of the budget. Rather, he believes it should be invested in infrastructure and economic development – as many leaders argue was its originally intended purpose.

“If you drive down Pine Avenue, where we are now, or you drive up Niagara Street or drive up Main Street, and you look around, it’s hard to imagine that the city, over the last 15 years has received $250 million,” he said.

While it’s unclear at this point exactly how much Niagara Falls will get, the mayor said he’s expecting a lot of the money will move quickly from the coffers. Other stakeholders like Destination Niagara USA, the local tourism agency, are owed a portion of the funds once the city gets them.

Governor Cautions Municipalities Not To Count On Seneca Casino Money For Budgets

A dispute over casino revenue sharing between New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians is now in the hands of an arbitration panel.

Earlier this month both sides appeared in front of the three-member panel in New York City. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said all arguments have been submitted on paper, as well.

“We’re waiting for an arbitrators decision and the sooner the better,” he said.

The conflict has been ongoing for nearly two years, with the Seneca Nation arguing the obligation to give the state a portion of slot machine profits has been fulfilled.

“It is very, very important that the Senecas restart their payments. Local governments are depending on that. That was the essence of the bargain that we reached initially. I believe they wrongfully stopped the payments. They believe they have a legal claim,” Cuomo said.

A portion of the money goes to the three cities where the casinos are: Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca. The loss in revenue has caused budget issues for all three municipalities.

“The municipalities, I believe should be prudent, and wait for the situation to be settled before they count on money. Don’t count your chickens before their hatched. Don’t count your revenue until you know you’re going to receive it,” Cuomo said.

The timeline for a resolution is unclear at this point.

Will Seneca Nation Casinos Take Sports Bets Soon?

When it comes to potential sports gambling operations in its three Western New York casinos, the Seneca Nation of Indians is playing its cards close to the vest. Monday’s Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized sportsbooks at a federal level, leaving the regulation up to states.

The Nation, however, is sovereign and like most gaming issues in New York State, there appears to be some disagreement about what it is allowed to do in its casinos. The Senecas have not said they are moving forward with a sportsbook, but in a short statement said they will take a close look at the ruling and the possibility of creating another amenity for guests.

“We closely monitor all developments in the gaming industry that could potentially impact the experiences that we are able to offer to our millions of visitors,” a spokesperson said.

The New York State Gaming Commission also continues to review the decision. There is already a law in the books allowing only the state’s casinos to accept wagers on sporting events, only after they are granted a license by the gaming commission.

A spokesperson for the commission had “no comment” about whether the law would apply to New York’s Indian casinos as well. The Oneida Nation in Central New York seemed to indicate it was cleared to move forward under the terms of its compact.

Niagara Falls Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R, said at least with the Seneca Compact, there is no mention of sports gambling. He believed it would need to be negotiated between the Nation and the state before Seneca casinos could move forward.

“This would be additional gambling revenue that there’s no authorization or rules or direction as to whether or not either the City of Niagara Falls or the State of New York is entitled to a percentage,” he said.

The Senecas and the state are also in the middle of a stalled arbitration process to decide a dispute over slot machine revenue. While sports betting is not a part of that arbitration, there is a chance it could be used as a bargaining chip to renegotiate the compact instead.

“It would seem that it could be but on that, it’s a legal issue and I’m not going to speculate at this time because the arbitration process is moving forward slowly but it is on the compact itself,” Morinello said.

The assemblyman said he is not sure what New York could do to stop the Nation if it started operating a sportsbook but he believes the federal government could get involved. In the meantime, he is not particularly concerned about the state falling behind in terms of gaming competition and believes the Legislature should take its time addressing the new developments.

Seneca Nation Files Lawsuit Over Long-Running Thruway Dispute

The Seneca Nation of Indians has filed a lawsuit in federal court connected to a long-standing dispute with New York State about a portion of the State Thruway which runs through the Nation’s Cattaraugus Reservation. The roughly three miles of road is part of the Thruway that runs between Buffalo and the northern Pennsylvania border.

The Senecas are seeking an injunction which would require the state to obtain a proper authority and pay for the land’s use moving forward. It would also either prohibit the Thruway Authority from collecting tolls for that stretch of road or require the comptroller to hold future tolls collected in an escrow account for the Nation until a valid easement is obtained.

According to court documents, the state obtained an easement to build the stretch in 1954 for a one time payment of $75,000, plus smaller payments to displaced members occupying the land. The Senecas contend they were coerced or threatened into the agreement but furthermore, the state never received necessary approval from the federal Department of Interior.

The Nation states that since at least 1993, they have openly denied the validity of the easement. The Nation initially brought a lawsuit against the state in 1999 but said it was ultimately rejected by a federal court because a state under the Constitution couldn’t legally be sued.

This time, the Senecas are specifically naming the governor, attorney general, the DOT commissioner and the Thruway Authority, all of whom they say have authority as individuals or as an entity to obtain a valid easement. It also names the comptroller in order to require him to establish the escrow account, should the state continue to collect the tolls.

The Seneca Nation and New York State have been on shaky terms lately, currently in the middle of an arbitration process regarding casino revenue sharing. A spokesperson for the Nation says the two disputes are not connected.

The owner of the Big Indian Smoke Shop on the Cattaraugus Reservation also appears to be building his own off ramp on that Thruway stretch but the Senecas say that is an individual effort which they are not involved in either.

“We can’t comment on pending litigation but it’s well established that the Seneca Nation granted an easement for the Thruway in 1954. We have defended that position in the past and will continue to do so going forward,” a spokesperson for the Thruway Authority said in a statement.

Seneca Nation Thruway Complaint by Ryan Whalen on Scribd