Casino sig

Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino

Arbitration proceedings between officials with the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians have begun in New York City.

Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state's Division of the Budget, confirmed the start of the legal process Thursday. The process begins 631 days after final payment was delivered to the state. 

The parties' dispute centers on separate contract interpretations related to the 2002 compact that governs the nation's gaming operations in Western New York.

Seneca leaders contend their payment obligations ended last year. State officials say the annual installments are due until 2023.

The different sides are currently making their initial arguments to the three-member arbitration panel, according to Mayor Paul Dyster. 

"All briefing papers have been exchanged," he said Thursday, describing the step as the deployment of "initial presentations" related to each sides' position. 

It was during this stage in the legal proceedings that the nation and the state came to an agreement during the last impasse in 2013.

"I don't want to speak for the arbitrators, but generally the arbitrators prefer that there be a negotiated settlement," Dyster said, later suggesting it was likely the panel would create "a window" for the parties to resolve their differences before issuing a ruling.

Dyster's discussion of the matter was prompted by Niagara Falls City Council Chairman Andrew Touma at the  lawmakers' Wednesday meeting, the last of the year. Touma asked Dyster whether he believed a resolution could come before midnight on Dec. 31.

"Is it possible? I suppose it's possible," Dyster said. "Is it more likely it goes a little bit longer than that? Probably."

Representatives of the Seneca Nation declined to comment on the matter Thursday.

The absence of casino payments resulted in a substantial budget shortfall, about $13.6 million, during 2019 financial planning. It was temporarily remedied by the allocation of $12.3 million from state. About $10.5 million was used to fund general city operations next year, according to tentative budget figures. 

The impasse has also dragged down the city's credit outlook with certain bond rating agencies, a negative trend that will affect the city's potential interest rates should officials seek longterm financing on the open market.

Recommended for you