Supreme Court takes up petition in Seneca Nation land case again

Seneca Nation leaders and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, center, sign the last steel beam that's part of a $40 million expansion of the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, New York. Photo from Facebook

Maybe the second time is the charm -- the U.S. Supreme Court is once again considering a petition in a long-running gaming case.

The justices originally had Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County v. Chaudhuri on the schedule for their May 12 conference. But it's been re-listed for a conference on Thursday so an announcement could come sometime afterward.

The case centers on the Seneca Nation and its Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo, New York, Opponents claim the site does not qualify for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

At issue is a provision of IGRA that, generally, bars gaming on lands placed in trust after 1988. The tribe acquired the site in 2005, long after the deadline laid out in Section 20 of the law.

But the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the provision does not apply to the site because it 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.

The tribe is not a party to the lawsuit -- the National Indian Gaming Commission is the defendant. Government attorneys are urging the Supreme Court to reject the petition, saying they are no conflicts with other decisions.

The situation is indeed unique in that the Seneca Nation appears to be the only tribe in the U.S. to operate a casino on restricted fee lands that were acquired after 1988 and in connection with a land claim settlement. The Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino is also located on restricted fee land.

Still, the court has tended to avoid Indian gaming disputes. The last decision that directly addressed IGRA was Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community from May 2014. Before that was Chickasaw Nation v. US in 2001.

Both of those cases drew significant interest in Indian Country. In contrast, the current petition only drew one brief -- from the anti-Indian Citizens Equal Rights Foundation.

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

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