Ernie Stevens Jr.

The Seneca Nation Casinos: Working for the Nation and Its Neighbors

Final payment of the Seneca Nation compact with New York has been made, but being a good neighbor to the communities is ongoing

The Seneca Nation casinos are a proven success story for the Nation, the state, local citizens, and charities. Revenues generated from the Nation’s casinos enable the Seneca Nation provide critical services to its members, in the form of housing, education and health care.

Seneca is dedicated to being a good neighbor, investing more than $1 billion in capital and infrastructure development in Western New York. The Nation employs nearly 4,000 local residents, spends millions of dollars annually on purchases from regional vendors, and supports local civic and charitable organizations.

On March 31, 2017, after 14 years of quarterly payments, the Seneca Nation made its last revenue share disbursement to the State of New York, fulfilling the terms of its compact, which runs through 2023. Under the compact, the Seneca Nation sent more than $1.4 billion to Albany (in addition to the voluntary contributions noted above). The Seneca Nation Tribal Council has promised to continue to be good neighbors to the communities located near to their gaming operations. These actions follow the goals and purposes of federal law.

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Indian country recently celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in California v. Cabazon and Morongo Bands of Indians. The Court affirmed the inherent right of tribal nations to conduct gaming on Indian lands free of state interference.

One year later, in 1988, Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which imposed limits on Indian gaming and required tribes to enter into compacts with state governments in order to conduct Class III gaming.

IGRA’s dual purposes are to establish a federal regulatory system for Indian gaming and to ensure that Indian Nations are the primary beneficiaries of Indian gaming revenues. To this latter point, nothing in IGRA requires Indian Nations to share casino revenues with the state—just as states do not share their lottery revenue with tribal governments.

IGRA did not intend for Indian gaming to help balance state budgets. In fact, the Act expressly prohibits states from refusing to enter into a compact “based on the lack of authority to impose a tax, fee, charge or other assessment.”

As former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Kevin Washburn, stated, “the Department reviews revenue sharing requirements in gaming compacts with great scrutiny.” Revenue sharing should only be permitted where a state offers meaningful concessions—such as exclusive rights to offer gaming that provide substantial economic benefits to the tribe—a benefit notably absent in the State of New York.

Strong partnerships between tribal governments and their neighboring communities create the strongest of economies that benefit everyone. This only occurs when the tribal government feels like a true partner with the local governments – an important priority no matter where in the country a tribal nation is located.

Ernie Stevens is the Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association.


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The Seneca Nation Casinos: Working for the Nation and Its Neighbors