In a letter from officials

Senecas call on New York State to await NIGC review of compact before demanding payments

Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels.
2022-03-11
Reading time 3:42 min

The Seneca Nation is requesting, in a letter sent by officials, for more time to make gaming compact payments to the state of New York, as a compact review awaits completion. Additionally, Seneca President Pagels is also asking the state to start discussions on an amended gaming compact between the state and his tribe.

The Seneca Nation is today calling upon New York State to allow the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) the time required to complete its ongoing review of the Nation’s gaming Compact, while also rejecting the State’s threat to circumvent that review,” tribal officials wrote in a letter made public on Thursday.

The statement comes in response to a letter sent to the tribe by attorneys representing New York State. The state is requesting Senecas to make revenue-sharing payments -for the periods of January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2018 and January 1, 2019 through September 30, 2021- which have long been the source of controversy amid the two parties. The state's letter stated the Seneca Nation agreed to make a payment no later than January 22, 2022.  

The Senecas, who operate casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, first notified the state in March 2017 that they had made their final payments under the compact the tribe negotiated in 2002. Meanwhile, New York argued the tribe still had to make payments for its operations, with a total of three rulings supporting the state in the years-long conflict.

During the legal fight, Senecas always contended that the payments were not appropriate since the secretary of the Department of the Interior did not review revenue-sharing settlements for the renewal period of the agreement with the state. They maintained that the automatic 2016 renewal of the compact, which runs through 2023, didn’t specifically call for further payments.

In its letter to the Seneca Nation, the state indicated the tribe to “live up to its commitments” and make the payments “by no later than March 16, 2022.” In the event that the nation fails to honor its pledge, New York State claims it intends “to immediately commence” enforcement and collection efforts to the full extent of its legal rights to recover the payments.

The state is asking the tribe to remit $255.9 million in contribution payments for the 2017-2018 period, and contribution payments representing 25% of the nation’s net drop of slot machines as they came due from December 31, 2018 through the term of the compact. As of December 31, 2022, this amount in total is approximately $309 million, “and continues to accrue.”

According to the Seneca Nation, the New York State letter comes despite the fact that the National Indian Gaming Commission review of the compact payments has yet to be completed. The tribe is asking the state to await the issuance of an official NIGC report on the matter: last month, Senecas passed a resolution pausing the payments until the review was finalized.

“The NIGC’s review, and the time needed to complete that review, is not a matter that the Seneca Nation can control. We have pressed, and continue to press, the agency for an update. We hope that an official report from NIGC will come soon,” has now said Seneca President Matthew Pagels. “Rather than threatening aggressive action, the State should permit the federal agency responsible for overseeing Indian gaming issues the time it needs to complete its work.”

While the Seneca Nation awaits the NIGC’s report, Pagels stated that tribe is “preparing for every circumstance,” including further legal action “should the state seek to take the funds by court order,” according to the letter made public.

Now is not the time for the State to revert to bullying and greed. We thought that chapter had hopefully ended. We hope we are not wrong,” Pagels harshly criticized the state. “We have seen what happens when New York acts like a government intent on eroding, ignoring and obliterating relationships with Native Nations and Native people.”

In the meantime, and while awaiting the report’s completion, President Pagels is calling on the state “to begin discussions” on an amended gaming compact with the Seneca Nation. He cites ongoing changes, developments and threats to the gaming market as reasons for an update.

“The gaming market has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, in terms of what is available to people, and where. Our Compact needs to reflect these changing market dynamics,” he said. “The State is required by federal law to negotiate with the Seneca Nation, and I am calling on the State to begin discussions. Unlike the NIGC review, that dialogue is completely in the control of the Nation and the State. We need to get started.”

A spokesperson for New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s office has released a statement in response to the Seneca Nation letter, according to WGRZ. “The Seneca Nation has been obligated to make these payments since April 12, 2019,” the text reads. “The State has patiently waited almost three years for the Nation to fulfill its obligation.”

The statement further claims “it is now time” for the state to protect its own interests. “Governor Hochul looks forward to this matter being resolved soon and resuming discussions on a new compact,” the response concludes.

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