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Seneca Indians, NY seek to end impasse

BUFFALO -- The Seneca Indian Nation will seek expedited arbitration to settle a dispute with New York that has held up payment of $330 million in gambling profits to the state and three cities where the tribe has casinos.

Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter said yesterday that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had failed to make a good-faith effort to resolve the nearly 3-year-old impasse over whether the state's expansion of gambling violates its 2002 casino compact with the Senecas.

"The passage of time has deteriorated the nation's willingness to trust the state to work out these disputes," Porter told The Associated Press. "The clearest way to resolve it at this point is to arbitrate."

A letter from the administration to Porter this week suggests the frustration runs both ways.

In January 2009, the Senecas stopped sharing casino profits with the state as called for by the compact, saying New York's approval of slot machines at racetracks and the video game Moxie Mania in bars violated a clause in the compact promising the tribe gambling exclusivity in western New York.

The compact requires the state to split its casino proceeds with Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, where the Seneca casinos are located. The revenue loss has hurt all three cities. In July, Salamanca obtained a $5 million emergency loan from the state to maintain services threatened by a budget shortfall.

In a letter to Porter this week, the Cuomo administration faulted the Senecas for dragging out the issue, saying the state sought arbitration nearly 11 months ago at the end of Gov. David A. Paterson's administration, but the tribe had been unresponsive.

"This action has resulted in significant hardships for a number of communities in the state which had specific line item expenditures associated with these revenue payments," wrote Howard Glaser, director of state operations.

Porter called the letter "inflammatory." The tribe, he said, had given the new administration time to pursue good-faith negotiations before continuing with arbitration, only to find out this week that it wasn't interested.

"This is a very frustrating scenario, 10 months later, to finally hear that arbitration is the official position for resolving the dispute," Porter said. "It's wasted an awful lot of time for our nation and for the local governments who've been hanging out there without getting paid."

In Albany, Cuomo laughed at the idea that his administration has moved at a glacial pace. "Yes, that's us, we're known for glacial-type movement," he said. "We're looking and have been looking to resolve the differences as quickly as possible."

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