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Appeals court backs Seneca Nation on keeping Buffalo casino open

The nine-year legal battle to end casino gambling in Buffalo and Niagara Falls may be over.

With the help of a federal appeals court, the Seneca Nation of Indians has won the right to keep its downtown Buffalo casino open, the latest and possibly last lawsuit challenging the Seneca Nation’s three casinos.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City upheld a lower court ruling declaring that the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino meets all the requirements of federal law.

The appeals court ruling ends the latest court challenge by the Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County, and in the eyes of Seneca officials, upholds their right to full governmental authority over all their lands.

“The Seneca Nation will never tire in the battle to protect our sovereign rights and to exercise those rights for the benefit of our people and all those around us,” Seneca President Maurice John Sr. said in a statement Tuesday.

The Seneca Nation recently announced plans for a $40 million expansion of its downtown Buffalo casino.

Casino opponents left the door open to challenging the court ruling by either asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case or asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision.

“While the groups believe that the casino is detrimental to the best interests of the community and, in particular, to the citizens that live in close proximity to the casino, the principal legal question remains whether Congress ever intended to create Indian land within the heart of downtown Buffalo," Cornelius D. Murray, a lawyer for Citizens Against Casino Gambling, said in a statement.

The Seneca Nation recently announced plans for a $40 million expansion of its downtown Buffalo casino.

The appeals court ruling upholds a 2013 decision by U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, who rejected the argument that the downtown casino is illegal.

Skretny, who had ruled in favor of casino opponents in two previous lawsuits, found reason to rule against them this time.

This suit, like the previous ones, argued that the Senecas do not have jurisdiction over their downtown property and, even if they did, the land is subject to a federal prohibition against gambling.

Skretny, in his latest ruling, pointed to a “new and critical” development regarding the federal government’s approval of the downtown casino.

Unlike the two previous suits, he concluded that the Senecas’ downtown property is “gaming eligible” because it is now clear that Congress never intended its gambling prohibitions to apply to the casino in Buffalo.

email: citydesk@buffnews.com

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