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Judge denies Seneca entry into suit

Another federal court decision was issued Tuesday in the long-running legal battle over the Seneca Nation's efforts to open a big casino in downtown Buffalo.

U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny turned down the Senecas' request to become a full party in the legal proceedings, which currently pit casino opponents against attorneys for the federal government.

In addition, Skretny's 30-page decision ruled against casino opponents on one legal issue and in their favor on another.

But the legal dispute could continue for years, according to attorneys on both sides of the complex case.

"Right now, I'd say the two sides are tied, but we have the football on the 50-yard line, and we're driving forward," said Cornelius D. Murray, an attorney who represents the group opposing Buffalo casino development.

The Seneca Nation and the U.S. attorney's office had no immediate comment.

Since 2007, the Senecas have operated a small, slot machine-only gaming hall on Michigan Avenue near HSBC Arena. The Senecas hope to build a much bigger casino on an adjacent site.

In 2008, the Indian tribe began erecting a steel framework for a bigger casino, but they stopped the work that summer for what the tribe called financial reasons.

In Tuesday's ruling, Skretny turned down a claim by casino opponents that the federal government has no legal power to designate land in downtown Buffalo as Indian land. Skretny said the claim was not made in a timely manner.

But the judge refused to strike down the casino opponents' claim that the downtown land obtained by the Senecas is not eligible for gambling. The casino opponents claim that, when it enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Congress prohibited gambling on any land acquired by Indian tribes after 1988.

While turning down the Senecas' request to become full parties in the litigation, Skretny did say the Senecas can continue to submit their opinions on the case as "friends of the court."

Casino foes began their federal court fight against a Buffalo casino with the first of three lawsuits, filed in January 2006.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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