The Seneca Nation has invested more than $1 billion to develop its casino properties in Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo. Today, the Nation’s casino operations employ more than 4,000 workers, making Seneca Gaming Corporation one of the largest private employers in Western New York.
In a 2 to 1 vote, a three-person arbitration panel ruled that the Seneca Nation must continue to share gaming revenues with the state of New York. The tribal-state compact does not address revenue sharing beyond year 14, but the panel majority determined Tuesday that the tribe is still obligated to pay the state.
Under its Class III gaming compact, the tribe has shared 25 percent of its slot machine revenues with the state, paying more than $1 billion in revenue share contributions to Albany between 2002 and 2016. The tribe ceased payments to the state in 2017. New York State expects the tribe to resume payments immediately—an amount totaling roughly $200 million, according to Buffalo News.
Panel member and Cherokee citizen Kevin Washburn, former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior from 2012 to 2016 during the Obama Administration, voted in favor of the Seneca Nation. Washburn underscored that the panel revised the terms of the agreement.
“The panel’s new provision rewrites the compact in a way that harms the Nation and provides an unjustified windfall to the state,” Washburn stated in the Seneca Nation’s press release.
The Seneca Nation issued the following statement in response to the opinion issued by the arbitration panel:
“Despite the panel finding that the Compact, as written, simply does not address the topic of revenue share beyond Year 14, a majority of the panel members determined that an obligation exists to continue revenue share payments to the State,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr.
“The Panel’s new provision rewrites the Compact in a way that harms the Nation and provides an unjustified windfall to the State,” according to dissenting Arbitration Panel member Kevin Washburn.
“We continue to believe, as anyone who has read the Compact, that the Nation’s Compact payment obligation was fulfilled, and we believe we had an obligation to the Seneca people to defend the Compact as it was written and agreed upon,” President Armstrong continued. “It is the Seneca people who voted to permit our Nation to negotiate our Compact and, like all government leaders, we must act every day in the people’s best interest. We created our gaming enterprise so that we could invest in the services that our people need, want and deserve. To that end, our casino operations have been transformational in helping the Seneca Nation serve our residents, from our youngest generations to our elders. None of that changes with this arbitration opinion.”
“While we know we are right on the law, we also knew that making that argument to an arbitration panel gave no assurance of an opinion in our favor. As is often the case, the Courts, and apparently arbitration panels, do not always decide cases on the law, even their law,” President Armstrong added. “We have prepared for this circumstance, and, now that the panel has issued its opinion, we will take the appropriate time to review and respond to the opinion, and move forward.”