Seneca Nation wins decision in off-reservation gaming lawsuit

Local officials in Buffalo, New York, joined the Seneca Nation on August 28, 2015, in announcing a $40 million expansion of the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. Photo from Facebook

A long-running battle over the legality of the Seneca Nation off-reservation casino in Buffalo, New York, finally appears to be over.

The tribe has been operating the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino for more than eight years. Opponents, though, claimed the land wasn't eligible for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Generally, Section 20 of IGRA bars gaming on land placed in trust after 1988. The tribe acquired the Buffalo site in 2005, long after that deadline.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, however, said IGRA's general prohibition does not apply to the tribe because the casino site was acquired in connection with the Seneca Nation Settlement Act of 1990. That law requires the land to be held in "restricted fee" status, a different category than land placed "in trust," a three-judge panel determined.

"We presume that Congress was familiar with the regulatory definition of these terms when enacting IGRA because Congress is aware of existing law when it passes legislation,'" Judge Christopher F. Droney wrote for the majority. "Congress’s awareness of the distinction between trust lands and restricted fee lands is also explicit in the text of IGRA itself."

A poster displays an artist's rendering of the expansion at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, New York. Photo from Facebook

"We therefore read Section 20's reference to trust lands, and exclusion of any reference to restricted fee lands, as intentionally confining Section 20’s application to trust lands," the decision continued.

The ruling is a victory for the tribe as it pursues a $40 million expansion of the casino, which opened in July 2007. Plans call for a 28,500 square-foot, two-story addition with space for more slot machines, table games, a performance stage, a restaurant and retail.

“From day one, the Seneca Nation has operated the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in close cooperation with the federal government, the state of New York, and the city of Buffalo and in compliance with all applicable laws,” President Maurice John Sr. said in a statement “The nation appreciates the Second Circuit’s vindication of the fundamental proposition that the Nation enjoys full government authority over our lands, and the court’s rejection of no fewer than three lawsuits that the plaintiffs have waged for years in a futile effort to disrupt the path of progress.”

Casino opponents could ask the 2nd Circuit for a rehearing. Or they could take the dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the case, Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County v. Chaudhuri.

Get the Story:
Appeals court backs Seneca Nation on keeping Buffalo casino open (The Buffalo News 9/16)
Buffalo Casino Opponents Go Busto in 2nd Circuit (Courthouse News Service 9/16)
Big court victory for Seneca Casino in Buffalo (WKBW 9/15)
Court gives thumbs up to Seneca's Buffalo casino (AP 9/15)
Seneca Nation wins legal battle over Buffalo casino (WBRO 9/15)
Court of Appeals rejects lawsuit against Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino (Buffalo Business First 9/15)

2nd Circuit Decision:
Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County v. Chaudhuri (September 15, 2015)

Related Stories
Seneca Nation grows land holdings at off-reservation casino (9/14)
Seneca Nation plans $40M expansion of off-reservation casino (08/31)
Court won't let Seneca Nation join off-reservation casino case (06/09)

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