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Q&A: John J. LaFalce on Buffalo casino

Retired Rep. John J. LaFalce recently took a leadership role with Citizens for a Better Buffalo, an anti-casino group. LaFalce, who along with fellow Rep. Amo Houghton authored the Seneca Nation Settlement Act, has criticized the federal government for using the law to grant a casino in Buffalo. He discussed his decision.

>Q: What precluded you from imagining the Seneca Nation Settlement Act would be used to promote casino gambling in Buffalo?

A: The only two authors of the 1990 Seneca Nation Settlement Act were Amo Houghton and myself. We agree: Gambling in Niagara Falls or Buffalo was absolutely never intended, and a pre-existing law, the IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] prohibited it, except under the most narrow of circumstances, none of which applies here. To make an analogy, we have been enjoined to "Love Thy Neighbor." Some might imagine that as a clear call to commit adultery. But there's another command: "Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery." Laws must be read as intended and in context.

>Q: What realistic chance do you think Citizens for a Better Buffalo has to defeat a casino?

A: The anti-casino forces certainly should win their federal lawsuit. I'd be amazed if they did not. In the Seneca Nation Settlement Act, Amo and I intended only to give fair compensation for unfair leases on the Allegany reservation, not to create Indian country and permit Indian gambling over 60 miles from the City of Salamanca in the heart of the City of Buffalo. We would have opposed that strongly.

Further, the exceptions of the IGRA, which would permit Indian gambling on land acquired after 1988, simply do not apply. The Buffalo property is not "within or contiguous to the boundaries of" a Seneca Nation reservation; it's not land "taken into trust;" it wasn't acquired as "part of a settlement of a land claim," but over 15 years after the settlement of a lease dispute; it's not sovereign Indian land; it is, however, owned by the Senecas in "restricted fee," but they simply cannot legally conduct casino gambling there.

Most importantly, the secretary of the interior never made a decision on the legality of Seneca Nation gambling in Buffalo. By not deciding within 45 days of the application, the issue was deemed approved. Under those circumstances, I believe the courts owe the nondecision result little to no deference; since there was no explicit approval, it is as if the court has to make a de novo interpretation and decision.

>Q: If successful, how would the outcome affect the casino in Niagara Falls?

A: The lawsuit involves only the City of Buffalo, not Niagara Falls, so it would have no immediate or automatic impact. Further, I am not aware of anyone who plans to mount a legal challenge against the Senecas' Niagara Falls casino, or who has the financial wherewithal to do so.

If, however, a case should somehow be brought against the Niagara Falls casino, there are a wide range of possibilities, from total cessation of gambling and taxation of other sales, to a legislative fix during the pendency of any potential lawsuit, to an application from the Senecas to continue Indian gambling by applying to the Department of the Interior to have the land taken into trust and also by complying with other requirements of the IGRA. That's what is happening at Turning Stone.

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