The Seneca Nation of Indians agreed to enter arbitration with the state of New York in an attempt to solve a prolonged dispute on whether the tribe’s three Western New York casinos should resume sharing slot machine revenue with the state.
A spokesperson for the tribe announced the its decision to respond to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for arbitration in a positive manner on Thursday. The announcement coincided with the government’s visit to Niagara Falls, which hosts one of the tribe’s gambling venues.
The state’s top official told local media that he and his administration wanted a fast resolution to the dispute and that they have tried everything possible to reach it.
Seneca President Todd Gates has previously explained that he had requested a meeting with Gov. Cuomo himself, but such a meeting has never taken place. The New York Governor responded to those claims on Thursday by saying that he had spoken to the tribal leader.
The arbitration will see each of the two involved parties appoint their own champion to advocate their arguments. The Seneca Nation and Gov. Cuomo will also have to select a third arbitrator, who will have to hear and weigh on the arguments presented and to eventually decide on which of the two parties is right. Both the state and the Senecas will be able to appeal the final decision to a federal court.
How the Dispute Began
In February, the Seneca Nation announced that it would no longer pay a 25% portion of its slot machine revenue to the state. The tribe argued that its fourteen-year compact had expired and that it could not be extended due to the state’s continued violations of its provisions.
The Seneca Nation previously contributed around $100 million in annual revenue to the state. The money was split between the New York coffers and host communities.
The revenue sharing agreement was part of a 2002 compact the tribe had signed with the state. Said compact expired on December 31, 2016, hence the tribe’s decision to halt revenue contributions. However, the state claimed that the agreement was renewed automatically for seven years, as neither of the involved parties had previously raised any objections as to whether terms had been observed.
The tribe has also not been particularly happy about the fact that four commercial casino licenses were granted for Upstate New York by state gambling regulators. Three of the properties have already opened doors and a fourth one is expected to be launched in early 2018. Thus, the New York gambling market was opened for non-tribal operations.
As part of the prolonged dispute, Gov. Cuomo said earlier this year that he might give the green light to a commercial casino in Niagara Falls. If such a property opens doors, it will be a direct competitor to Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino, known to be Seneca Nation’s most profitable casino.