The permanent Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino complex in downtown Buffalo, New York,will have a 22-story all-suites hotel adjoining a 90,000-square-foot gaming floorfor 2,000 slot machines and 45 table games, the Seneca Nation announced lastmonth. Adding the hotel, a spa and four restaurants to the original plan bringsthe project cost to $333 million, up from the initial $125 million projection.
Although lawsuits challenging federal designation of the nine-acreBuffalo Creek site as tribal land are still in court, “This project isthe result of vision, dedication and a willingness to invest,” says BarrySnyder Sr., president of Seneca Gaming Corporation. The casino is due to openin early 2010-early estimates said 2009-with the 206 hotel suitesready by midyear.
The expanded final design by Sosh Architectsof New York City was motivated by Seneca’s success with its casino-hotelsin Salamanca and Niagara Falls and unexpectedly good business at its 124-slot temporarycasino in Buffalo.Buffalo Creek is the third and last casino allowed under Seneca’s New York gaming compact.
The hotel, clad in metallic material, will be capped with a hugevideo screen displaying interior images and marketing messages. Three acres ofthe site will be devoted to a park and an artificial “BuffaloCreek.”
National Indian Gaming Commission ViceChairman Chuck Choney will step down at the end of the year, ending more than35 years of public service-five as part of the NIGC, six in the U.S. Armyand 26 years as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Chuck Choney brought maturity,leadership and a keen understanding of Indian and tribal traditions and values,a solid judgment to the commission,” said Chairman Phil Hogen. “Hisservice here raised respect for the commission and for integrity in the Indiangaming industry. His participation on the commission will sorely bemissed.”
Choney was instrumental in theformation of the Indian Gaming Working Group, which was formed in 2003 toenhance cooperation with federal agencies and to coordinate their roles andfunctions with respect to potential crimes throughout the Indian gamingindustry. Crime in Indian gaming was Choney’s specialty, and he helped todevelop benchmarks for law enforcement involvement over criminal acts takingplace at Indian casinos. Prior to the establishment of those benchmarks, somefelony acts went unpunished.
“Now when an Indian gamingofficials discover criminal activity being committed on their property, theyknow it will be properly addressed,” said Choney, ”
Appeals court chips away at tribal sovereignty
A February decision by the U.S. Court ofAppeals for the District of Columbiaruled that tribal casinos are subject to federal labor laws, and somespeculate, could begin a general rollback of tribal sovereignty by the courts.
In issuing the decision the courtsaid, “Tribal sovereignty is not absolute autonomy permitting a tribe tooperate in a commercial capacity without legal restraint.”
The court ruled that the casino ownedby the San Manuel Indians near Palm Springs, Californiais not part of the government operation of the tribe, is just another business,and therefore not protected by sovereign immunity. That opens up the casinos,and any Indian casinos within the appeals court’s jurisdiction tounionization of the workforce. Coincidentally, that same issue is the mainsticking point in several gaming compacts that were signed by Governor ArnoldSchwarzenegger but have been mired for more than a year in the legislature.
Some legal experts predictthat the decision could eventually end tribal sovereignty, something that manyfeel the U.S. Supreme Court is hostile to. Courts could find that more federalstatutes apply to tribes, and incrementally chip away at the idea that Indiantribes are, as they hold, virtually independent nations.
The lawsuit that sparked the decisionwas filed by The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union,which was denied the right to organize while one of its rivals was not. Duringthe course of the case the court ruled that the tribal casino is subject tonational labor laws.
The reason some feel this will beginto chip away at sovereignty is that the has turned over a previously acceptedconcept that state and federal laws apply to tribes only when Congressspecifically states that it does. The court ruled the opposite: that theassumption is that state and federal laws apply unless Congress specificallyexempts tribes.
The court noted that mostvisitors and even employees of casinos are not members of the tribe andconcluded that a casino is not an integral part of the tribalgovernment-merely a revenue source.
Floridacompact in the cards?
Prospects of some Class III card games being allowed at the Seminoletribe’s seven Floridacasinos are among the latest sticking points in prolonged gaming-compactnegotiations between the tribe and Governor Charlie Crist. The final compactmay appear by October 15, the new deadline the U.S. Interior Department setlast month before it might step in to allow slot machines and other casinogames without a state agreement.
Dan Adkins, chief gaming executive of Mardi Gras Gaming inHallandale Beach, says he will “be at the courthouse in aheartbeat” to challenge the governor over any compact that allows thetribe blackjack, baccarat or other games parimutuels like his are not allowedunder state law.
Slot machines, however, are the prime element in compactnegotiation. Seminole wants them to replace the bingo machines it has run foryears. Racetracks and jai alai frontons are allowed slot machines under a 2004state law if local voters approve them, but not the electronic roulette andcraps games a recent draft of the compact allows Seminole.
That’s another reason Adkins wants “a levelplaying field. Let’s do it right the first time and include everyone inthis pact,” he says. He may find support from other operators, citizensgroups and the state legislature if a final compact appears this month. All areexpected to tie up the compact for years with suits or other action.