BUFFALO, N.Y. (CN) – The Seneca Nation is operating an illegal high stakes casino in downtown Buffalo on allegedly “sovereign land” that should still belong to New York State, a group of casino opponents claims in its third federal lawsuit. The group of religious leaders, politicians and citizens say the Senecas acquired the land unconstitutionally.
Two plaintiffs’ two previous lawsuits were upheld. Now they claim the Senecas are continuing to operate their temporary Buffalo Creek Casino by adopting new rules and ordinances that were approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission and supported by the Department of the Interior.
The plaintiffs say that the site in Buffalo’s Cobblestone District is not sovereign land, and even if it were, it would not be eligible for gambling because it does meet any of the exceptions to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which states that gambling on Indian land acquired after 1988 is illegal. The casino does not qualify for that exception because it was acquired in settlement of a land claim, according to the plaintiffs.
The complaint alleges that the National Indian Gaming Commission’s “last minute” approval of the Seneca’s latest gambling application – on Inauguration Day – was illegal. It accuses the Department of the Interior of changing a long-held interpretation of federal law by issuing an opinion that superseded a ruling by its former secretary.
According to the plaintiffs, the defendants erroneously concluded that prohibitions against gambling did not apply to “restricted fee” land, such as the Buffalo parcel.
The Senecas acquired the land through the Seneca Nation Settlement Act, which Congress enacted to compensate for the below-market value of Indian land in the area.
The lawsuit cites plaintiffs’ concerns about the harmful social effects the casino will have on the poor and vulnerable in the community. Plaintiffs say they’re concerned about “increases in crime, traffic, noise, and a decline in the moral and social fabric of the community as a result of divorce and personal bankruptcies that are linked to addiction and pathological behavior associated to gambling.”
They want the ordinance authorizing the gambling declared invalid, and the land removed from the Senecas’ and returned to New York’s jurisdiction.
President Obama is named as a defendant along with the Department of the Interior and its Secretary Ken Salazar, and the National Indian Gaming Commission and its Chairman Phillip N. Hogen.
The plaintiffs are represented by Cornelius D. Murray with O’Connell & Aronowitz in Albany, and Richard J. Lippes with Lippes & Associates.