Buffalo Creek Casino Case: Judge Skretny's Decision
On July 8, 2008, the federal district court issued a decision in the case challenging the NIGC's approval of the Seneca Nation's amended ordinance. The case, brought by Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County, is an effort to prevent the tribe from operating a casino in Buffalo.
The plaintiffs claimed that the Buffalo parcel is not "Indian lands," so that Chairman Hogen's conclusion that the parcel meets IGRA's Indian lands requirement is arbitrary and capricious. After a lengthy analysis, Judge Skretny rejected this claim.
The plaintiffs also claimed that the Buffalo parcel did not qualify for the "settlement of a land claim" exception to IGRA's general prohibition against gaming on newly acquired lands, so that Chairman Hogen's conclusion on this point is arbitrary and capricious. On this one, the court sided with the plaintiffs. Recall that the Seneca Nation purchased the Buffalo parcel with funds from the federal Seneca Nation Settlement Act. The Interior Secretary had opined that land purchased with SNSA funds would fall within the "settlement of a land claim" exception.
The court, though, stated, "When the SNSA was enacted, the [Seneca Nation] did not possess an enforceable claim against the United States . . . . Because no claim existed, no claim was settled."
The court went on to hold that "gaming cannot lawfully occur on the Buffalo parcel under the settlement of a land claim exception," and vacated the NIGC's approval of the tribe's amended ordinance.
End of story, right? Wrong. In late July, federal lawyers asked the court to remand the issue to the NIGC. The argument is that while this case was pending, the Interior Department issued new regulations interpreting IGRA's exceptions to the prohibition against gaming on newly acquired lands (the section 2719 exceptions). These new regs take effect this month. And the next scheduled court date is August 21, when the Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County are expected to ask the court to send federal marshals to shut down the Buffalo Creek Casino. Stay tuned.