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Seneca Nation releases gaming compact

CATTAURAGAS TERRITORY, N.Y. ? The Seneca Nation of Indians has finally released its gaming compact with New York State for public perusal. On April 23, ten days after the compact's signing was announced, the tribe posted the agreement and its appendices, numbering well over 800 pages, on its Internet web site.

But neither the Nation nor New York State Governor George Pataki seem eager to encourage detailed scrutiny of the document.

The document was posted as a .pdf file, but it appeared that the program at the source was designed to block efforts to print it or extract text from it. Indian Country Today attempted to print the document with both PC and Apple computers, as did a Virginia-based computer expert, all to no avail.

Copies of the document have been available since April 17 for inspection by tribal members at the libraries of the Nation's two reservations in Cattaraugus and Allegany, N.Y. Only one copy of the massive document, however, was reportedly available for inspection at each site.

The Senecas have scheduled informational meetings on the compact for April 30 and May 1 at Allegany and Catteraugus, respectively. These meetings are open only to tribal members.

The tribe is bitterly divided over becoming involved in gambling, either on or off its reservations. On April 21, the Buffalo News reported two alleged incidents of arson on property owned by casino opponents.

The Buffalo News reported that the state released the compact to the public on April 19, but Indian Country Today was unable to confirm that as repeated calls to Governor Pataki's deadline were not returned by press time. A spokesman for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board said he was not sure whether it had been released or not. Indian Country Today was also unable to reach a spokesman from the Seneca Nation before press time.

The compact largely follows the June 2001 Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties.

The agreement grants the Seneca Indian Nation exclusive rights to "gaming devices," defined as slot machines and video lottery terminals, for that portion of the state west of State Route 14, which runs north-south from Sodus Point on Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border. In other words, the Senecas get gaming-device exclusivity for the part of the state west of an imaginary line drawn halfway between the cities of Rochester and Syracuse.

The one exception would come if either or both of the Tuscarora Indian Nation or the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians pursue a compact for class III gaming, but their facilities would have to be located a minimum of 25 miles from any Seneca Nation-owned facility. Both the Tuscaroras and Tonawandas, however, follow the traditional Longhouse ways of the Haudenosaunee. Since political leaders in the Haudenosaunee camp interpret those traditions to oppose all forms of gambling, it appears unlikely that either group will attempt to secure a compact.

Three New York sites are listed in the compact as approved locations for gaming establishments: the city of Niagara Falls, the city of Buffalo and either one of the tribe's two reservations.

The "contribution," or the amount of money paid to the state by the Senecas, could increase throughout the agreement's 14-year life span. During years one through four, 18 percent of the net gaming-device take (after payment and before expenses) is to be paid to the state on an annual basis. The percentage rises to 22 percent on a semi-annual basis during years five through seven, and jumps to 25 percent quarterly for years eight through 14.

If the state subsequently enters a compact with another tribe on terms more favorable to that tribe than this agreement's terms are to the Senecas, the tribe has the option to automatically apply those terms to this deal.

A computer search revealed that neither of the words "union" nor "tax" were mentioned anywhere in the document.

As mentioned, the compact has a 14-year life with an automatic seven-year renewal, barring objection by either party within 120 days of its expiration. The compact can be repealed if the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is repealed, or if a referendum of the Seneca Nation approves such a repeal. The compact takes effect upon its publication in the Federal Register, which can only happen after the state formally approves it and a majority of eligible Seneca voters approve it in a referendum.

The Seneca referendum is slated for May 14. An estimated 4,000 tribal members are believed eligible to cast ballots. Tribal officials have predicted victory for the compact, while anti-casino members have vowed vigorous opposition.

The compact is available for inspection at www.sni.org.