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Opponents move to shut down casino Seneca Nation of Indians misses deadline for new gambling ordinance

Gambling opponents may have landed the knockout punch in their battle to close down the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino.

After the Seneca Nation of Indians missed a crucial deadline last week in its bid to keep the casino open, a motion was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo to force the federal National Indian Gaming Commission to shut the casino down within five days and to hold the commission in contempt for not shutting it down sooner.

"I think Judge [William M.] Skretny knows he's dealing with a federal agency, and I think he's been more than accommodating," Cornelius D. Murray, Albany-based attorney for the Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County and Citizens for a Better Buffalo, said Tuesday evening.

"So now, eight weeks later, when nothing has still been done, the time has come to go back and say enough is enough," Murray added. "How are the rest of us supposed to act when the federal government goes and defies a court order? Hopefully, Judge Skretny's patience has been exhausted."

The National Indian Gaming Commission has until Monday to file an appeal with the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Skretny's previous orders.

Skretny ruled against the Senecas in July, revoking the gaming commission's approval of the Buffalo casino, calling it "arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance with the law."

In August, Skretny ordered the commission to "carry out [its] congressionally mandated obligations" and decide whether the casino should be shut down. The Senecas stopped construction of their $333 million permanent casino and hotel complex at the edge of downtown Buffalo shortly after that but continue to operate their temporary casino.

In early September, the National Indian Gaming Commission said the temporary casino is operating illegally and issued a "notice of violation," but gambling has continued at the blue metal building at Michigan Avenue and Perry Street, at the edge of the permanent casino site.

The Senecas were to have submitted a new gambling ordinance to the gaming commission for approval by last Wednesday -- the court had invalidated two previous ordinances -- but suddenly withdrew it a day before the deadline.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Pat Fleming gave the anti-gambling groups no explanation for the Senecas' action and refused to disclose anything about it.

"She wouldn't give us a copy of the letter of withdrawal," Murray said, "so at that point we concluded that there was no legal justification of any kind for gambling to continue."

Seneca Nation President Maurice John could not be reached to comment Tuesday evening.

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com

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