Showtime Gets To Keep All Its ‘Billions’ After NY Judge Dismisses Tribal Lawsuit

Posted on July 29, 2020 - Last Updated on July 31, 2020

The Cayuga Nation’s defamation lawsuit against the television network Showtime has been dismissed.

The tribe’s lawsuit alleged a particular episode of the show “Billions” defamed it, potentially leading to a diminished chance to expand its gaming operations in New York. A New York Supreme Court judge didn’t buy it, however.

New York Supreme Court judge dismisses Cayuga Nation lawsuit

New York Supreme Court Judge Kathryn E. Freed granted Showtime’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on July 17. Her finding on the defendants’ behalf rested on two precepts.

The first is that the First Amendment to the US Constitution protects original works like television shows when their depictions of events and people are clearly fictional. That’s why TV viewers often see a legal disclaimer at the beginning of episodes that explicitly state the fictional nature of the work.

Secondly, Judge Freed ruled that because the Cayuga Nation is a governmental body and not an individual person, it can’t sue for defamation. That was one of the finer points of the dispute, however.

The episode of “Billions” in question did name the tribe. Additionally, it depicted a fictional tribal leader who shared a last name with one of the actual Cayuga leaders.

Freed ruled that the identical last name wasn’t substantive enough to justify the lawsuit, however. Additionally, the fictional character was female while the actual tribal leader is male.

The tribe operates two gaming facilities on its privately-owned lands, including LakeSide Entertainment. It has ambitions to do more, however, if future circumstances allow.

Another tribal casino in New York?

Currently, the Cayuga Nation does not have a federal reservation. That would be the first step necessary for operating a full-fledged casino. Right now, the Cayuga gaming facilities only offer bingo-style games.

If they were to get a reservation, the tribe could then negotiate a gaming compact. The following would have to agree to its terms:

  • US Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • US Dept. of the Interior
  • New York Legislature
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo (or a successor)

At that point, the tribe could begin the expansion of its gambling business. Even if the “Billions” episode had defamed the character of tribal leaders, it’s uncertain how much that would affect the decisions of all of the involved parties.

The Department of the Interior taking land into trust for the Cayuga Nation doesn’t seem imminent, so the entire conversation is speculative right now. This lawsuit merely further proves that the First Amendment affords broad protections to works of fiction.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. 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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