The Seneca Nation of Indians on Friday launched a new attempt to overturn an arbitration panel ruling that the tribe must make required revenue sharing payments to New York State and host communities like the falls, during the period of renewal of the pact between the nation and the state which authorized the casino games.
The nation has filed a petition in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York in Buffalo, seeking “relief” from a November 2019 ruling by United States District Court Senior Judge William Skretny, who concluded that the arbitration panel’s decision was valid and ordered the Senecas to make the decision to make compulsory payments to the state.
The nation had 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 appeal court decision made the Seneca’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court unlikely.
The latest Senecas move claims that an April 15 letter from the US Department of the Interior raises questions about the legality of revenue-sharing payments during the auto-renewal phase of the pact.
In a case filed in court, Senecas lawyers admit that the nation, under the arbitration award, is forced to pay “hundreds of millions of dollars” to New York State. But they say the Home Office now says “it has not reviewed and approved such payments as required by law.”
In the letter, Paula L. Hart, Director of the Office of Indian Gaming, Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, wrote: “(We) have serious concerns about the expansion of revenue sharing for 15 years. -21 because carry out an extension scan.
Hart also wrote: “We caution the parties against relying on the terms (of the renewal of the pact) because we have not determined that they are legal.”
She suggests that the state and the Senecas can submit the contested provisions to Home Secretary Deb Haaland for review. The Senecas have suggested that the state accept a 45-day window for this review to be completed.
“The nation today filed a petition with a federal district court to stay all execution of previous legal proceedings related to the payment dispute, in order to give (the Home Office) time to complete its review.” , a Seneca Nation spokesperson said in a writing. statement provided to media. A letter from the DOI last week expressed ‘serious concerns’ about the legality of any payments during the pact’s seven-year renewal period, since these provisions were never specifically considered by the Home Secretary. The Nation has asked New York State to cooperate in obtaining the DOI assessment.
A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo called Seneca’s move just another delaying tactic.
“It is clear that the nation is trying every option to find an arbitrator who will allow it to withhold money which, according to all the other decision-makers who heard this case, was owed to the state, part of which would be distributed to the localities. which are sorely in need of resources, “the spokesperson said in an emailed statement to the Gazette.” We are confident that this will only lead to the same result. “
The renewal period of the pact began in December 2016, without objection from either the State or the Senecas.
When it came 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 State. In return, the state was to receive a percentage share (18% to 25%) of the revenue generated by these slot machines.
The state then shared a percentage of that casino revenue 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 cease because they were not required under the pact after the first 14 years. In those first 14 years, the state received $ 1.4 billion in payments.
Under the agreement, the state submitted 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 to resume.
In its decision, the arbitration panel held that it would be “unreasonable” and “contrary to common sense” to conclude that the Senecas were not responsible for revenue sharing during the extended term of the pact.
The nation and state then proceeded to federal court in Buffalo, where the nation sought a dismissal of the arbitrator’s decision and which requested that the decision be enforced.
Following Skretny’s decision upholding the arbitral panel’s decision, the appeals court ruled that “the arbitral panel clearly did not disregard the applicable law” and that the courts did not need to send the case back to the court. US Secretary of the Interior for consideration, as interpretation of contract terms is a matter left to the courts.
State officials said they believe the Seneca Nation owes around $ 435 million, or over $ 100 million allocated to local governments.
Since the revenue sharing payments were suspended, the state government has provided advances of this money to the City of Falls government. If the Senecas resume payments, these cash advances will be withheld by the state.