Despite recent agreement

Senecas halt revenue-sharing gaming payments to New York state pending NIGC review

Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels.
Reading time 2:25 min

The Seneca Nation Council has voted to halt revenue-sharing payments to New York state pending a National Indian Gaming Commission review. The decision was passed in a resolution on Saturday, and the tribal nation now asks the Gaming Commission for a final determination on whether additional payments are lawful under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

On January 12, the Seneca Nation announced it had signed an agreement with New York to discontinue litigation over the tribe’s compact with the state and remit the disputed payments, with Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels stating he had decided to drop the case in order to begin discussions “on a gaming compact” and to settle “the longstanding dispute.”

The Seneca Nation, which operates casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, first notified the state in March 2017 that it had made its final payment under the gaming compact the tribe negotiated with the state in 2002.

But an arbitration panel sided with the state, mandating the Senecas to remit $225 million to New York, as part of an agreement to share a quarter of slot revenues from the three casinos. The tribe contended that this should have been overturned because the secretary of the Department of the Interior did not review revenue-sharing payments for the renewal period of the agreement with the state.

The Senecas challenged the decision in federal court, and asked for a review by the Department of the Interior. In the meantime, New York state claimed the Senecas’ obligation had grown since then. A total of three rulings supported the state in the years-long conflict.

Pagels’ decision to drop the legal fight and to resume payments was harshly criticized by other Seneca Nation people, including former member of the Tribal Council Susan Abrams, who last month filed a lawsuit in the tribe’s Peacemakers Court to ask for a temporary restraining order stopping any payments. Now Pagels seems to have heard the concerned parties.

The Department of Interior and National Indian Gaming Commission have raised concerns about the legality of the continued revenue share payments under the Seneca Nation’s gaming Compact and commenced a review of the matter several months ago,” Pagels told Times Herald on Monday. “To date, neither agency has issued an official report, nor taken any legal action.”

The decision to halt revenue-sharing payments until a Gaming Commission determination has been praised by several Seneca people, including the Mothers of the Nation, a group of Seneca women organized under the Seneca Constitution, reports Olean Times Herald. The Mothers had organized a petition drive on February 8, gathering signatures of Seneca women who deemed the settlement agreement invalid.

The agreement called for over $800 million to be paid back in quarterly installments, thus putting an end to over five years of animosity between the Senecas and New York state. Should the National Indian Gaming Commission deem the compact illegal, the tribal nation could drop its plans to make the payments.

The Mothers, however, were not the only ones to raise concerns over the agreement. On Thursday, Marie E. Williams, former executive director of the Seneca Gaming Authority, filed a challenge of the legality of the agreement in Seneca Nation Courts, similarly to what Abrams did last month.

William’s challenge focuses on the “assessed costs” which go beyond the provisions of the compact and illegal payments she claims Pagels buried in the agreement. The former executive claims the additional costs have consistently been disputed and denied by both the Seneca Gaming Authority and several Seneca Nation presidents over the last few years.

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