Seneca Nation Files Suit to Vacate Panel Decision That It Owes $255M to New York State

After the Seneca Nation fulfilled its 14-year obligation to the state of New York in late 2016, the Tribe ceased making its $100 million-a-year casino revenue payments. But in April, two members of a three-person arbitration panel ruled that the Tribe must reinstate its payments, and that it owes New York $255 million in unpaid casino revenue.

The Senecas subsequently requested an opinion from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which notified the Nation on Wednesday that it needs more information before making a decision regarding the Tribe’s casino revenue-sharing payments with the state.

“While we regret that we must return the proposed Arbitration Award, we look forward to a new submission that includes a complete set of documents in compliance with the requirements of 25 C.F.R. Part 293,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary John Tahsuda stated in his letter.

Upon receiving the Interior’s letter Wednesday, the Seneca Nation of Indians filed suit in New York federal court to have the state panel’s ruling vacated, until the Secretary of Interior reviews it.

The Tribe requests the vacate of the decision on the grounds that the arbitration panel failed to seek review of that determination by the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, as required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

“To allow this amendment to take effect without review by the Department of Interior would undermine the process by which the federal government carries out its trust responsibility to the Seneca Nation, and other sovereign Nations across the country,” Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. has said.  

The Tribe also argues that the panel majority wrongly interpreted the terms of the Tribal-state compact: The Tribe never agreed to seven more years of revenue sharing payments beyond the 14-year term.

President Armstrong commented that Wednesday’s action by the Department of the Interior “unfortunately fails to resolve the ongoing disagreement between the State of New York and the Seneca Nation.” The Tribal-state compact, as amended, “remains unenforceable without federal review.”

Armstrong added: “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.”

The Seneca Nation operates casinos in three communities: Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo. Since the Seneca Nation began its gaming operations in 2002, the Nation has sent more than $1 billion in revenue share contributions to the state of New York, in addition to investing more than $1 billion to develop its three gaming properties. Today, the Nation’s casino operations employ approximately 4,000 workers, making Seneca Gaming Corporation one of the largest private employers in Western New York.