Seneca Nation casino compact deemed approve
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The Bush administration on Thursday refused to endorse a controversial casino agreement that paves the way for the largest expansion of gaming in New York state history.

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton announced she will neither approve or disapprove the compact the Seneca Nation negotiated with Gov. George Pataki (R). She exercised an option under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the law that governs casinos on Indian lands.

The decision means the agreement is considered valid but only to the extent it complies with IGRA. The tribe will be able to move forward with up to three casinos in upstate New York. The facilities are expected to generate thousands of jobs and bring much-needed revenue to the state's sagging budget.

But it also means that potential challenges gain added significance. The federal courts can be called upon to address whether portions of the compact are consistent with IGRA. The Seneca Nation and the state face lengthy litigation over the terms of the agreement.

Indeed, that is what has occurred elsewhere in the country. In New Mexico, for example, a 1997 deal the Clinton administration failed to endorse is still being fought in court. Even compacts that have been approved are challenged.

The reasons for Norton's decision won't be explained fully until she issues a formal decision letter. It is expected to be released today and will address some concerns the Department of Interior raised in a late September letter to the Seneca Nation.

The potentially troublesome provisions include:
  • Stipulations on use of land settlement funds for housing. Under IGRA, compacts are only supposed to address gaming issues.
  • Revenue sharing based on geographic exclusivity. Under IGRA, the rate -- 18 to 25 percent of slot machine revenues -- could be considered extremely high.
  • The location of two off-reservation casinos and whether they fall within the tribe's aboriginal territory. Under IGRA, gaming can only occur on Indian land.
  • Impacts on the rights of other tribes. The Tonawanda Band of Senecas and the Tuscarora Nation are near the off-reservation sites.

    Seneca Nation President Cyrus M. Schindler has called the 14-year agreement no less than historic. After initial terms were outlined in June 2001, it was finalized in August.

    For Pataki, the ability to negotiate the compact was a political feat. After the September 11 terrorist attacks took a hit on the state economy, he ushered -- critics say rushed -- a law through the Legislature to authorize six new Indian casinos, video lottery terminals at racetracks and an expansion of the lottery.

    The tribe has begun construction of a facility in Niagara Falls located on property that will be held in restricted fee status pursuant to the terms of the law that settled one of its land claims. A second facility, in Buffalo, will fall under the same requirement while the final will be located on one of the the tribe's three reservations.

    The compact becomes valid after publication in the Federal Register.

    Relevant Documents:
    Seneca Nation Gaming Compact (PDF 1.56MB)

    Relevant Links:
    Seneca Nation -
    Indian Gaming Regulatory Act -

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