The Department of Justice
on Friday said it will defend
the legality of an off-reservation casino whose operation has a major impact on the western New York economy.
The Seneca Nation
has been running a temporary
facility in downtown Buffalo for more than a year. But the future of the Buffalo Creek Casino
was placed in doubt when a federal judge said the site wasn't eligible for gaming.
The tribe acquired the land for the casino after the passage of
Gaming Regulatory Act
of 1988. The law, generally, bars gaming
on newly acquired lands.
The tribe claimed an exception under Section 20 of IGRA
that allows gaming on land acquired in connection
with a land claim settlement. In 1990, Congress enacted the
Seneca Nation Settlement Act, which appropriated money
for the tribe to purchase new lands.
The National Indian Gaming Commission
said the site qualified for an exception but Judge William M. Skretny disagreed. In
July, he said the SNSA, despite its
title, was not a true land claim settlement because
it addressed tribal leases.
Despite the decision, the tribe refused to stop gaming at
the casino even after the NIGC issued a notice of violation
in early September.
However, the tribe stopped all work on a $333 million,
90,000 square=foot permanent facility at the site only a month later.
The tribe cited the downturn in the national economy,
rather than the court fight, as the reason for the suspension.
Either way, the spring 2010 opening for the permanent facility
will likely be put off for several months, along with
1,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $38 million.
Through the Seneca Gaming Corporation
, the tribe employs
more than 4,200 people at its casinos, including another
off-reservation facility in Niagara Falls that also was acquired in connection
with the SNSA. The legality of that site, however, is not at issue
in the Buffalo case.
"Seneca Gaming Corporation has established itself as a dynamic and
growing presence in the gaming industry and in the Western New York
economy, and we expect that to continue,"
Brian Hansberry, the corporation's president and CEO,
said earlier this month.
A group called
Citizens Against Casino
Gambling in Erie County
, the lead plaintiff in the case, says the negatives of the project
outweigh the benefits. Opponents link gambling to an increase in crime,
addiction and other social ills.
The fight began in January 2006 when casino opponents sued after
the NIGC approved the tribe's gaming ordinance.
In January 2007, Skretny ruled that the agency failed to analyze
the legality of the casino site.
After the NIGC re-examined at the issue and approved the gaming ordinance
in July 2007, opponents filed the current suit. They are
now seeking to have the NIGC held in contempt court, accusing
the agency of failing to shut down the casino in response
to Skretny's decisions.
If the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals
upholds Skretny, that doesn't necessarily mean the tribe will be shut out of Buffalo forever. The tribe could claim another Section 20 exception or go through a lengthy process that requires the state governor's approval for an off-reservation casino.
The tribe could also seek Congressional approval or clarification of the SNSA to ensure the casino site is legal. The appeals process could take up to a year to resolve.
July 8, 2008
August 26, 2008
Earlier Case:Citizens Against
Casino Gambling in Erie County v. Kempthorne
(January 12, 2007)
Seneca Nation defends off-reservation
(10/23) Seneca casino opponents want NIGC held
(10/22) Seneca Nation halts work at
(10/16) Seneca Nation
appeals NIGC notice of violation
Artvoice: The soap
opera over Seneca Nation casino
Judge won't force
closure of Seneca Nation casino
Artvoice: The case
of the Seneca Nation's casino
(8/21)Judge to rule on
Seneca off-reservation casino
contributes $57.3M to New York
Sale of gaming
stock funded anti-Seneca lawsuit
DOJ defends gaming
on Seneca Nation fee lands
Foes ask judge to
shut down Seneca Nation casino
New York won't
take action on Seneca Nation casino
Gaming foes seek
closure of Seneca Nation casino
Seneca Nation's casino craps out
won't close casino despite ruling
offers raise to gaming employees