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Senecas vow to keep Buffalo casino open

Despite some setbacks in a federal court case, Seneca Nation officials vow to continue operating their small, temporary casino in downtown Buffalo and eventually build a much bigger one.

Calling the temporary facility on Michigan Avenue "a huge success," the Senecas insisted Wednesday that they still hope to win approval from the National Indian Gaming Commission for a new gaming ordinance for Buffalo.

They also expressed hope that, within the next few days, the U.S. Justice Department will appeal an Aug. 27 federal judge's ruling that the Buffalo casino is operating illegally and directing the gaming commission to proceed "forthwith" with enforcement actions.

"The Seneca Nation of Indians remains committed to vindicating its rights and actions relating to its Buffalo Creek gaming facilities," said the tribe's president, Maurice A. John. "[We] remain confident that Class III gaming will continue to operate in Buffalo."

"A year from now, from the [Seneca] Nation's standpoint, we hope that these legal issues are resolved, the credit markets open up again, and we hope to be moving forward with the construction of our permanent Buffalo Creek Casino," said Martin E. Seneca Jr., counsel to the Seneca president.

Seneca stated that rulings made by U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny over the summer had no impact on the tribe's late August decision to halt construction of the $333 million Buffalo casino/hotel project. The halt was simply linked to problems in the credit market making it hard for the nation to get loans at an acceptable rate, he said.

The comments about the future from Seneca leaders came one day after casino opponents filed court papers that they hope will deliver a death blow to the Buffalo casino.

Attorneys for two anti-casino organizations asked Skretny to hold the Indian Gaming Commission in contempt of court and order the commission to "terminate" gambling at the casino within five days.

According to Cornelius D. Murray, lead attorney for the anti-casino groups, the Indian Gaming Commission has "willfully" ignored Skretny's orders by refusing to shut down the casino.

The federal commission has "not taken any effective enforcement action whatsoever, making a mockery of the law and [Skretny's] prior orders," Murray said in court papers.

"[The] Senecas have continued to openly conduct that illegal operation without a valid ordinance, and the [commission] has failed to take effective steps to stop them," Murray added, referring to the gaming commission as "arrogant."

The harsh allegations aroused little reaction from Shawn D. Pensoneau, chief spokesman for the Indian Gaming Commission.

"It's a little early to react," Pensoneau told The Buffalo News. "We're waiting to see what the judge decides. Because it's ongoing litigation, we're not commenting."

Martin Seneca denied reports that the tribe is no longer pursuing an application for a new Buffalo gaming ordinance.

"Our application was pending, but the [gaming commission] asked us to withdraw it and resubmit it," Seneca said. "We did that . . . Now, that restarts the clock and gives the commission another 90 days to consider our application."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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