$564M in payments

Senecas vote in favor of making compact payments following "overreaching" New York State actions

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The Seneca Nation has voted in favor of making gaming compact payments to New York State. The tribe’s council voted on Monday afternoon on a resolution that would allow the Nation to make the much-discussed $564 million revenue-sharing contributions as part of their gaming compact agreement, reports WKBW. Part of the funds will cover a new football stadium.

The Seneca Nation Council met with members earlier on Monday to allow them to voice their thoughts on the issue. Over the weekend, the nation described recent actions taken by the State of New York as “overreaching,” according to WGRZ

Seneca Nation president Matthew Pagels claims a subpoena served by the state is negatively impacting the tribe and its Seneca Gaming Corporation bank accounts, prohibiting transactions. This marks another episode in the ongoing dispute between both parties over the millionaire casino payments, which New York State alleges the tribe owes.

“New York State’s actions over the past few days were purposeful, malicious, and politically motivated," Pagels said in a statement released Sunday, retrieved by the cited source. His comments were echoed by Seneca women group the Mothers of the Seneca Nation.

Seneca Casino Buffalo Creek

“Today the Seneca Nation Council voted to release $564 million in disputed gaming funds after being extorted by New York State,” the group said in a statement released on Monday night. “The State used strong-arm coercive tactics, forcing a freeze of the Nation’s bank accounts over the weekend.”

The Mothers describe the actions as “overly aggressive” and in violation of a federal court order, “as the Seneca Nation was given until April 8th, 2022, in line with an established court schedule.”

Seneca Nation president Matthew Pagels.

The group claims that, instead, Gov. Hochul froze the nation’s accounts “beyond the disputed gaming funds,” which remain in an escrow account, thus inflicting economic harm and crippling business operations.

The tribe says this action hurts their ability to provide basic services. "New York has shown, with willful indifference to thousands of people, the type of business partner they want to be," Seneca Nation said Sunday in a statement. "We have endured many wounds and wrongs from New York State during our long co-existence.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

"That history of attacks against our people, our land and our sovereignty serves as a backdrop to every interaction the Seneca Nation has with New York State,” the statement further reads. “It is disappointing that New York has chosen to add yet another chapter to that history just as we prepare for Compact discussions.”

The current gaming compact between the Seneca Nation and New York State was first issued in 2002, and calls for 25% of slot revenues to be shared with the state to be distributed to host casino cities: Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca.

The state has long requested 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, an issue that has been the source of controversy for the two parties. 

The Senecas first notified the state in March 2017 that they had made their final payments under the compact the tribe negotiated two decades ago. 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. They maintain that the automatic 2016 renewal of the compact, which runs through 2023, didn’t specifically call for further payments.

In a letter to the Seneca Nation, made public in early March, 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 failed to honor its pledge, New York State claimed it intended “to immediately commence” enforcement and collection efforts to the full extent of its legal rights to recover the payments.

According to the Seneca Nation, the New York State’s actions came despite the fact that a National Indian Gaming Commission review of the compact payments has yet to be completed. The tribe asked the state to await the issuance of an official NIGC report on the matter in a letter earlier this month.

In a new statement, Gov. Hochul has now responded to the tribe's claims and defended the actions taken by the state. "Since the beginning of my administration, I have been committed to resolving this dispute and securing the funds that State and local governments are owed," she said. "The courts have consistently ruled in the State's favor, yet no payments were made."

Gov. Hochul claims that, upon taking office, she sought to negotiate "in good faith," meeting every hurdle. Despite the setbacks, the governor said she was now "pleased" to finally reach a resolution and indicated that the funds, which were generated in Western New York, will partly cover a new football stadium.

"I am directing the State's share, which is more than $418 million, to the new Buffalo Bills stadium," the Gov. said. "This will ensure the Bills remain in New York State and support 10,000 construction jobs. The remainder of the funds will go directly to the counties and cities of Western New York and be reinvested to support the local economy and communities."

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