ALBANY – An arbitration panel named to settle a major financial dispute between the state of New York and the Seneca Nation has ruled that the tribe was wrong in 2017 to halt more than $100 million in annual casino revenue sharing payments to the state.
By a 2-1 vote, the panel said the tribe needed to continue making annual payments on slot machine revenues from its three Western New York casinos after the 14th year of its compact, originally signed in 2002.
It is uncertain how much money the Seneca Nation will be required to pay back to the state under the terms of the arbitration order, but it could be about $200 million.
The tribe stopped making the payments just when the state was starting to put together its annual budget in spring 2017, saying that the wording of the compact did not specifically provide for a percentage payment level of slot machine revenues that the Senecas had to send to Albany each year.
The tribe was given broad casino gambling exclusivity rights in the original compact in return for sharing 25 percent of slot proceeds with the state.
New York, in turn, shared a portion of that money with localities, some of which, like the City of Niagara Falls, came to heavily rely on the annual flow of money. Brown said he is confident the city will receive about $17 million as a result of the ruling.
He said he assumes that next year’s city budget will include a payment, but he does not know when Buffalo will get the money. Cuomo has insisted from the start of the dispute that the Seneca Nation breached the terms of the casino compact.
“I would suspect that it will work with the state’s fiscal year, which will be good timing for the City of Buffalo and will come into the city according to our budgetary projections,” he said. Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr., who dismissed the panel’s ruling, said the tribe believes that its financial obligations to the state were met and ended in 2017.
“While we know we are right on the law, we also knew that making that argument to an arbitration panel gave no assurance of an opinion in our favor.
As is often the case, the courts, and apparently arbitration panels, do not always decide cases on the law, even their law.
We have prepared for this circumstance, and, now that the panel has issued its opinion, we will take the appropriate time to review and respond to the opinion, and move forward," the Seneca leader added.
Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, said the administration is "thankful the arbitration panel held a fair hearing of the facts and ruled in favor of the state and the local communities that have been hurt by the Seneca Nation's actions." "It was clear to us that the Nation had an obligation to continue payments – period.