Seneca Nation Protests Against NY Gov. Kathy Hochul in Gaming Dispute

Posted on: April 19, 2022, 12:05h. 

Last updated on: April 19, 2022, 12:51h.

Around 200 members and supporters of the Seneca Nation demonstrated in Buffalo, N.Y.’s Niagara Square Friday, The Democrat and Chronicle reports. They were protesting against perceived heavy-handed tactics by the state to end a longstanding a casino revenue share dispute, which at least one demonstrator described as “an act of war.”

Seneca Nation
Seneca Nation members demonstrating Friday against the Hochul administration’s decision to freeze its bank accounts. (Image: WKBW)

In March, the Seneca paid New York $564 million in withheld slot machine revenues. But that happened only after the Gov. Kathy Hochul administration filed a court motion to seize the funds, which had been held in an escrow account during the dispute.

At the same time, Albany froze the Nation’s bank accounts to pressure it into paying up. Leslie Logan, one of the Mothers of the Nation, wrote last week in Indian Country Today that this “dealt a crippling blow to the economy of the 8,500-member [tribe].”

Logan said the subpoena “plunged the Nation into a state of economic paralysis, affecting the nation’s enterprises, gaming operations, and jeopardizing the livelihoods of Seneca families and a workforce of 4,500.”

Stadium Controversy

The Nation has been ordered to pay the state by an arbitration panel in 2019, and then by a federal court in 2021.

But the tribal council still held off, opting to wait for an opinion from the federal National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) on whether the payments were lawful under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The Nation was reviewing the NIGC opinion when Hochul lost patience and pulled the trigger.

The Senecas have been further enraged by the Democratic governor’s proposal to plow the money into a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, rather than spending it on local regeneration.

Critics of the plan say Hochul’s husband could stand to benefit. He has an executive role at Delaware North, which holds the concession rights to the current stadium. The Governor’s Office has denied a conflict of interest.

Compact Squabble

The Nation stopped making revenue share payments to the state in March 2017. It claimed its obligation expired in 2016 under the terms of the compact it signed in 2002.

This agreement was set to roll over after 14 years unless there was an objection from either party. But the Nation argued there was no specific stipulation that revenue sharing payments should continue into the second term.

The state said that had “no basis in law or logic” and declared the Nation to be in violation of its compact. During the standoff, the state had to bailout the cash-strapped City of Niagara Falls, which relied on revenue share payments to plug its annual budget. The Nation owns casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Salamanca.

Seneca Nation councilman Ross John, who spoke at Friday’s demonstration, complained that the Nation’s economic contribution to the state, beyond revenue sharing, was consistently overlooked.

“We’re been undermined, we’ve been debased, our value has been shoved under a carpet,” he said. “I think that is one of the most offensive things that happens during these compact negotiations when you’re dealing with governments, governors, and all these people. More than 9,700 jobs trace back to the Seneca Nation.”