New York’s Indian Casinos – Tribes, A Few Tribulations

September 19, 2012

Casinos, tribal and otherwise, may face a battle royal in the near future as New York’s Indian tribes see the state offer inroads on gaming to more people. The 7 table games licenses that are to be dispensed by the state might not go simply to already-existing racinos, although this is most likely. However it could mean that new groups, new gaming corporations, could step onto the sceneā€¦ and the locations where they choose to set up operation will be closely scrutinized by the Indians.

When New York granted several harness racetracks permits to run video lottery terminals, many of the state’s Indian tribes objected, saying this broke the compact they had with the state, which promised no non-Indian gambling would be permitted on tribal territories. At issue are some lands west of the Finger Lakes where these racetracks are located. The Seneca have claimed their exclusive right to gambling within the area has been encroached upon. Several tribal casinos, including the large and wealthy Seneca properties — Salamanca, Niagara, and Buffalo — stopped paying their contracted casino payments to the state as long ago as 2009. The Mohawk tribe has also ceased paying the state.

The withheld money represented the main livelihood of some small municipalities including Salamanca and Niagara Falls.

With the additional licenses for table games soon to be granted, there is a distinct possibility that the future license winners will also be objected to by various tribes.

The controversy over cigarettes sold on Indian land, which the state wants to tax, may be a part of the problems between Indians and the state.


What games have provided different groups a way into offering gaming to the public?

Well, there’s bingo. That was the doorway for Indian tribes in New York and other states to begin to earn revenue from gambling. A simple game that was innocent enough to be a mainstay for churches, it worked well to give tribal gaming a foot in the door. Other simple things followed, like scratch-tickets. Also very innocuous, such gambling methods were deliberately chosen by gaming groups, so as not to turn public regard against Native Americans as they began to take advantage of their special status and open new sources of income for their populations.

The state of New York has historically been more liberal towards its tribal peoples than some other states. Perhaps its location, and sharing a border with Canada are part of the reason. When our nation’s borders were drawn, they were found to have been created without regard to the large indigenous populations living all over and across them. The borderlines, agreed upon by our leaders after the Revolutionary War, split asunder the lands that Indians occupied, separating tribes and even families. That is why free passage rights were granted to Native Americans on this side of our northern border — to correct the unfortunate impact the drawing of the country’s borders had on the tribes. Customs agents were severely restricted in what identification they could demand, and could not enforce restrictions on certain personal items, especially religious ones, carried across by Indians.

Perhaps these days, border security has changed most of that reckless freedom; but what still remains are the protective laws of New York which not only permit and tolerate Indian casinos within the state, but allow visitors — New Yorkers or not — to enjoy those casinos to the hilt.

During the height of the poker boom, which popularized both online and live poker games, New York — especially New York City — was discovered to be the hottest and most thriving spot for illicit poker. Soon people around the world had heard about NYC’s underground card rooms.

Their exclusivity, however, is waning. Not too long from now, 7 establishments will have the opportunity and the actual state-blessed license to open their own poker rooms, as well as blackjack tables, craps tables, and roulette wheels and be as much casinos as any of the Indian ones that dot the land.

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