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SENECAS HAND STATE ITS SHARE OF MONEY FROM CASINOS, REMAIN DEFIANT ON SALES TAX

The Seneca Nation on Friday gave New York State a chunk of its gambling revenue, but not before making clear its unhappiness over the state's desire that Seneca businesses collect sales tax from non-Indians.

Seneca President Barry E. Snyder Sr. and Treasurer Maurice A. John signed ceremonial checks for 2003 and 2004 gaming proceeds the nation had pledged to pay the state as part of its agreement to open casinos in Niagara Falls and Salamanca. The share from Seneca Niagara for 2004 was $44.8 million, while the state gets $12.3 million from the Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca, which opened last May.

The portion from Seneca Niagara was up nearly $6 million over last year.

The ceremony took place on a concrete plaza in front of the Seneca Niagara Casino, on the same spot Gov. George E. Pataki signed the gambling compact with the nation in 2002. And they did so in the presence of several state lawmakers who represent Niagara Falls and Niagara County.

Those lawmakers all made it a point to thank the Senecas for the state share of gambling revenues, which amounts to 18 percent of money dropped into slot machines in the nation's two casinos.

None of the lawmakers who spoke before the check signing referred to the recently passed state budget, which includes plans to collect some sales taxes from Indian-owned businesses.

All three Seneca speakers did.

"(Today's) payment comes in a time when the state continues to seek ways to violate our treaties with the federal government and impose sales taxes on the sale of gasoline, tobacco and other products sold by Indian retailers to non-Indian customers on Indian territories," Snyder said.

After the ceremony, Snyder said the Senecas will never collect such sales taxes.

"We're not going to budge," he said.

Meanwhile, there's also a hitch in the government share of slot revenue: Three-quarters of that money will get channeled into the state general fund, while one-quarter flows to local governments in Cattaraugus and Niagara counties.

An impasse has developed over how the nearly $11.2 million local share will spill into Niagara County.

State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, said they have agreed that the money should be split among the city of Niagara Falls, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., the Niagara County Airport, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and the Niagara Falls School District, although percentages still need to be determined.

Further complicating matters is a lawsuit filed by Niagara County against the state and Niagara Falls earlier this month seeking three-quarters of the local share, a lawsuit the County Legislature is scheduled to discuss at its meeting Tuesday.

DelMonte on Friday urged county lawmakers to drop the suit.

Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno must sign off on the local share. Maziarz and DelMonte said Niagara Falls will get the most, although Maziarz said the city must provide details of how the money will be spent -- and prove it will create jobs and economic development -- before the state opens its purse strings.

"What I've heard so far is 'Just give me the money,' " he said.

Both lawmakers said it will take at least a few more weeks to resolve the impasse.

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