The Seneca Nation of Indians said today it has filed for arbitration over what they claim is New York’s violation of its gambling compact with the state, which says it has exclusive gambling rights in 14 counties in western New York.
The arbitration filing is the latest salvo in the dispute with the state over its gambling rights and its rights to sell cigarettes tax free on its reservations.
Since January 2009, the Seneca Nation has withheld about $350 million in payments to the state from its three western New York casinos, in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, Cattaraugus County. The Senecas claim exclusive gaming rights west of Route 14, which runs south from Wayne County to the Pennsylvania border.
The Senecas have protested the three video-lottery-terminal facilities at Batavia Downs, Buffalo Raceway and Finger Lakes Gaming and Raceway in Farmington, Ontario County. Those facilities have taken on the name “casino” in recent years.
In 2001, the state approved letting the Senecas open three western New York casinos and to let the state’s racetracks add the VLTs as a way to raise revenue after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The deal also included letting three casinos to be built in the Catskills — but none have been built a decade later.
“This is a decision the Nation does not make lightly, but it is one the Council and I must make to defend our rights under the Nation’s 2002 compact with New York State,” Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter said in a statement.
The dispute will go to a three-member panel of arbitrators, the Senecas said.
The move comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders said publicly last week they will move to legalize casino gambling in the state through a constitutional amendment. That would require approval by the Legislature next year, then again among a new Legislature in 2013 and then by voters in November 2013.
Casino gambling in the state would then be legal starting in 2014.