No Reservation Means No New York Casino For Cayuga Nation

Written By Derek Helling on August 12, 2020 - Last Updated on March 10, 2021

There will be no Cayuga Nation reservation in New York. The US Department of the Interior recently passed on the tribe’s petition for a reservation. Gamblers in the state shouldn’t count on a casino operated by the tribe as among their options any time soon.

While it’s a disappointing announcement for the tribe, internal strife played a part in the Interior Department’s decision. Additionally, it creates a series of negative outcomes for the tribe.

Why Interior passed on forming a Cayuga Nation reservation

The Cayuga Nation first applied for federal recognition and asked the Interior Department to take land into trust on its behalf 15 years ago. While that may seem like a long time, it’s not uncommon for it to take two decades to determine these issues.

After a decade and a half of waiting, the Cayuga Nation didn’t get the answer it wanted. The explanation for its denial is the most intriguing part of this story.

Apparently, a violent confrontation between factions of the tribe made all the difference. In February, Cayuga Nation police bulldozed multiple buildings on the tribe’s lands.

Another group of Cayuga, dubbed the “Unity Council,” affiliated themselves with those buildings. The Unity Council does not recognize the authority of other tribal leaders.

In response to the demolition, members of both sides of the leadership dispute clashed violently. Local police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

The Interior cited the incident and stated forming the trust at this point, with leadership in dispute, could exacerbate the situation.

The idea isn’t without merit. Forming the trust would strengthen the claim that the faction led by the tribe’s federal representative, Clint Halftown, has on control over the tribe’s affairs.

What might happen in regard to Cayuga Nation gaming now

The tribe has a few options going forward, such as filing suit against the Interior Department in federal court. Another tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts, recently has had some success in that regard.

If the tribe does take the Interior to court, it will hope for greater success than it has recently seen in that arena in New York. Last month, a New York judge dismissed a lawsuit the tribe brought against Showtime.

That lawsuit argued Showtime’s television series “Billionsdefamed the Cayuga Nation and harmed its outstanding application with the Interior.

The judge threw out the suit because the First Amendment protects works of fiction. In addition, individuals, not governing bodies, are the only parties who can sue for defamation.

That matter aside, the Cayuga Nation’s ambitions to offer casino gaming on its own sovereign lands might rest on a lawsuit. There are few other options.

While New York does allow commercial casinos, all the allowable licenses are currently occupied. In order to secure one of those licenses, one of the current holders would have to forfeit its license.

Alternatively, the state could amend its constitution to increase the number of licenses. That process would take years, however, and there’s no guarantee the Cayuga Nation would receive one of the new licenses.

In a lawsuit disputing the Interior Department’s decision, the court will also likely be interested in whether the Cayuga Nation has resolved its internal issues. For now, that’s the issue that has deprived them of a reservation and a casino.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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