In Buffalo

New York: Senecas rally to call for a new, "fair" compact with state amid payments dispute

Seneca Nation rally at Niagara Square in Buffalo, NY, on Friday.
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Seneca Nation members rallied last Friday at Niagara Square in Buffalo for a “fair” casino compact and in opposition to "overreaching" actions made by New York State as part of a years-long dispute over compact payments.

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, with the state demanding the tribe to pay $564 million in contributions.

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.

While the Senecas have urged New York State to await a National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) review of the compact agreement, Gov. Kathy Hochul and her administration moved to freeze the tribe’s bank accounts last month through a subpoena, in an effort to coerce the tribal nation to pay. The decision has been harshly criticized by the tribe.

“To have our economic resources frozen like that - it was frightening," Seneca member Linda Logan said at the rally, according to Buffalo News. "We were not able to function, to buy medicines and the simplicities of life. That was a big thing. I just felt like she had taken the breath out of our ability to breathe and function.”

About 75 Seneca people participated in the Seneca Rally for Economic Justice. Hochul’s decision to ask KeyBank to freeze the accounts until the disputed money is paid as a pressure tactic was heavily protested at the event, with the nation’s members calling it an "overreaching" measure.

Gov. Kathy Hochul

While the Seneca Nation Council voted late last month to send payments to the state following New York State’s pressure, the tribe feels there is much at stake when the nation negotiates a new casino compact to replace the current one, which expires in December 2023. Senecas will now push for a “fair” agreement going forward, they said at the rally.

According to the cited source, the tribe said tax breaks, state subsidies, investments and other incentives should be recognized as a part of the negotiations. “Largely, the message is we receive $0 from New York State," said Odie Porter, a member of the Seneca Mothers of the Nation. 

"We’ve invested $2.3 billion back to New York State through the compact, but we also have over 4,000 jobs and we have endless vendors and so we’re supporting all of Western New York,” she added. “We want to set the record straight about really the economic engine that the Seneca nation is."

According to a previous statement from Hochul, 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 last month. “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.”

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