Faced with crippling sanctions on its bank accounts and those of its gaming company, the Seneca Nation Council voted, in an emergency meeting Monday night, to “order the transfer of funds to resolve the outstanding dispute of the Nation’s Gaming Pact with New York State as soon as possible.
The board resolution requests the transfer of $564,842,625.20 from a restricted escrow account, in which funds related to the pact were held, to the state to cover the amount of slot machine revenue sharing owed for the period from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2021. .
Lawyers representing the state had moved on Thursday to freeze and restrict access to the nation’s and its gaming company’s bank accounts. The action had the effect of blocking the nation and the gambling company from any commercial transactions.
In response to the action of the Council of Seneca, the state should lift restrictions on bank accounts.
“The accounts have been unfairly targeted and frozen in an act of blatant aggression by New York State,” Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels said in a statement Monday afternoon. “State actions have threatened the delivery of services, including health care and education, to the Seneca people, and the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Seneca and non-Seneca individuals and families. in western New York.”
Pagels said the state action leaves the nation no choice but to pay the disputed shared slot revenue.
“The Seneca Nation simply could not stand idly by as New York State intentionally attempted to hold hostage the Seneca people and thousands of western New Yorkers,” Pagels said. “The state may think it appropriate to force a senior to go without diabetes medication or a family, already struggling with the financial impacts of the pandemic, to go without a paycheck. The Seneca Nation will not let that happen. We will not let New York State strangle the people of Western New York.
On March 11, the state had demanded that the nation pay shared revenue from slot machines by March 16. began making casino cash payments that they had suspended in 2017.
However, when the state made its request for payment in March, the Senecas responded that the nation needed more time to allow the National Indian Gaming Commission to review the current gaming pact.
This delay reportedly stemmed from internal divisions within the Seneca Nation regarding the resolution of the gambling pact lawsuit. A group known as Mothers of the Seneca Nation reportedly demanded that the nation seek other remedies, including firing its lawyers or seeking intervention from the US Department of the Interior.
As part of its agreement to drop its legal challenges to the current gambling pact, Seneca Nation leaders announced that they have also reached an agreement with the state to begin discussions on a new gambling pact. current one expires in 2023.
On Tuesday, Pagels released what he called “a clear demand” for the state to immediately begin negotiations on a new casino pact.
“Do not use the people of western New York as pawns in your obvious desire to destroy the Seneca Nation,” he said. “You have an obligation under federal law to negotiate a compact with the Seneca Nation in good faith. Honor him.
The current gaming contract went into effect in December 2002, granting the Seneca Nation the exclusive right to offer casino gaming in Western New York. Since then, the nation has opened three casinos – Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino in Salamanca, and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo.
However, the nation accused the state of violating the current pact by allowing video lottery terminals in the pact’s designated exclusivity area and allowing online sports betting.
“Twenty years ago the state promised the exclusivity of the Seneca Nation that never really existed and which the state intentionally erased even more at every opportunity,” Pagels said. “We are going nowhere and we will not tolerate a Governor and State bent on crushing us. The time for honest and compact discussions is long overdue. The Seneca Nation is ready. It is time for New York State come to the table.
In reaction to the Seneca Board’s decision, Governor Kathy Hochul said she was happy to resolve the dispute.
“I thank President Pagels and the leaders of the Nation for delivering on their commitment to the people of New York,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “From the beginning of my administration, I have been committed to resolving this dispute and securing the funds that are owed to state and local governments.”
Hochul said she intended to direct the state’s share of funds, $418 million, toward building a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
“This will ensure Bills stay in New York State and support 10,000 construction jobs,” Hochul said. “The remainder of the funds will go directly to counties and cities in Western New York and will be reinvested to support the local economy and communities.”