The Seneca Nation owns and operates the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino in Niagara Falls, New York. Photo: Christine K

Seneca Nation seeks federal review after losing $256 million arbitration ruling

The Seneca Nation is asking the federal government to review its Class III gaming compact after losing an arbitration ruling that forces the tribe to continue sharing revenues with the state of New York.

Since 2002, the tribe shared more than $1 billion with the state but stopped payments in 2016. The tribe argued that the compact only called for 14 years of such payments.

By a vote of 2-1, an arbitration panel ruled otherwise in January. The decision would require the tribe to make $256 million in back payments and make additional payments as long as the compact is in effect.

The tribe now contends that the decision effectively added an amendment to the original compact by requiring another $1 billion in payments. As such, the agreement must be reviewed again by the federal government, President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. said.

Seneca Media and Communications Center on YouTube: Seneca Nation Press Conference 3/23/17 - Re: Gaming Compact

"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," Armstrong said in a news release.

“The arbitration panel gave New York state, without the benefit of a negotiated agreement, or a review by the Department of Interior, more than a billion dollars in additional payments that they did not bargain for,” Armstrong added. “We are obligated by federal law to submit such an amendment for review by the Department of Interior.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs allowed the tribe's compact to take effect in 2002 without outright approving or rejecting it. As a result, it is considered to be legal but only to the extent its provisions are "consistent" with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, according a notice published in the Federal Register.

The tribe subsequently reached a memorandum of understanding in 2013 to settle a prior Class III gaming compact dispute that also impacted the revenue sharing arrangement. There is no record of that agreement, which includes a provision stating that the compact can be automatically renewed in 2016, being submitted to the federal government for review.

"In 2013, an amended version of the compact was agreed upon between the Seneca Nation and New York State," the tribally operated reads. "In 2017, the Seneca Nation fulfilled its obligation and is no longer required to remit payments to New York State."

According to Section of the 2002 compact, an arbitration decision "shall be final." The prevailing party -- in this case, the state -- is allowed to go to court to "enforce the arbitration award," the agreement reads.

Read More on the Story
Senecas want review of ruling for them to pay $255M in casino profits (The Buffalo News April 17, 2019)
Senecas ask Interior Department to review gaming compact with NYS (WBFO April 18, 2019)
Senecas seeks federal review of arbitration ruling favorable to New York State (WGRZ April 17, 2019)
Seneca Nation calls for federal review of Compact amendment (WKBW April 17, 2019)
Seneca Nation requests federal review of agreement with state on casino revenue (WIVB April 17, 2019)
Senecas seek second opinion on revenue ruling (The Niagara Gazette April 18, 2019)

An Opinion
Editorial: Senecas are bound by arbitration (The Buffalo News April 17, 2019)

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