Cities wait on funding from Seneca Nation casino revenue

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Cities that use revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casinos are playing a waiting game.

In January an arbitration panel ruled that the Seneca Nation should not have cut off their casino payments to the state. But months later, it remains unclear when the area will see the money.

“It’s kind of like their position was ‘we took a mortgage on the right to have a casino, we paid off that mortgage, and we’re still entitled to the benefits of the agreement,'” explained Assemblyman Angelo Morinello (R-Niagara Falls).

After the Senecas extended their compact with the state to run the casinos, they also stopped making those payments. 

“The Seneca’s position was when the original schedule was completed, that eliminated their obligation to pay anymore funds,” Morinello said.

But state arbitrators ruled 2-1 in January that the Nation owed the state those payments. Months later, however, the arbitrators haven’t decided how much the Senecas should pay and when.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the funding, Morinello is urging the cities that use the money to keep it out of their budget. The Niagara Falls City School District has used the funds in the past to make payments on the district’s athletic facility, but this year Superintendent Mark Laurrie said they’re not getting their hopes up.

“We decided that last year, despite the fact that we knew it would be in arbitration, we planned as if we weren’t going to receive it and built the budget that way,” he said.

Morinello said that’s exactly what the municipalities should do – budget around that funding and remain cautious.

“I hope the lesson is, live within your means, learn how to budget, and learn how to budget properly,” he said.

Besides Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca are also waiting for this funding. There is no clear timeline of when the arbitrators’ final ruling will happen – and then those cities must still wait to receive those payments.

On Friday morning, Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong released a statement on the matter:

“As with the opinion issued earlier this year, two of the three arbitration panel members have determined that an obligation exists for the Nation to continue revenue share payments to the State beyond Year 14 of the Compact. The two panel members arrived at this conclusion despite the fact that no language exists in the Compact to make such a determination.

In making this final ruling, the panel has effectively and materially amended the agreed upon terms of the Compact. It has done so in complete disregard of federal law that governs the Compact and without following the necessary federal procedures for making Compact amendments.

Simply put, the Compact is rooted in federal law and amending the Compact requires that proper procedures be followed. A majority of the panel members ignored both of these critical issues.

Once we have reviewed and discussed this ruling and our legal rights, we will determine a path forward.”

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