A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Cayuga Nation could operate a Class II gaming parlor in Union Springs, NY. The ruling stems from a conflict between the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and a local anti-gaming ordinance on the books for more than 60 years.
The opinion from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling from March 2020. That ruling determined the Cayuga Nation’s Lakeside Entertainment gaming facility was operating on sovereign tribal land. As such, the federal tribal gaming law superseded the Union Springs ordinance.
Lakeside Entertainment is a small Class II facility that offers more than 85 video gaming machines. The tribe purchased a closed auto parts store in the Finger Lakes community, located about 30 miles southwest of Syracuse in 2003. After renovating the facility, tribal leaders tried to operate a gaming center there. Denied by local authorities, they sued, arguing that tribal sovereignty usurped local law. However, the Cayuga lost that lawsuit and closed the venue.
Nearly a decade later, the Cayuga resumed operations. When the sides went to court this time, the Nation’s lawyers argued that IGRA, a 1988 law allowing gaming on sovereign lands, trumped the Union Springs games-of-chance ordinance that was established in 1958.
In the opinion, US Circuit Judge Gerard E. Lynch, who presided over the case with fellow Circuit Judges Amalya Kearse and Denny Chin, pointed out that the federal law covers “all lands” on a reservation. The Cayuga’s reservation has not been rescinded, Lynch added, and the property in question is within the recognized boundaries.
This case turns on a straightforward question of statutory interpretation,” Lynch wrote.
“As we and our sister circuits have held, IGRA preempts all state and local legislation and regulation relating to gambling conducted on ‘Indian lands,’ as defined in that statute,” Lynch continued.
In a statement, Clint Halftown, the Cayuga Nation’s leader and federal representative, called the ruling a great victory and said the tribe will continue to assert its rights.
“Sovereignty is the bedrock of the relationship between federally recognized Native American nations like ours and the state and local governments with whom we must interact,” Halftown said.
Appeal Possible in Cayuga Case
Union Springs Mayor Bud Shattuck told Casino.org that the town is considering asking the full circuit court to review the case. However, there is a caveat to that.
“Our lawyer said that it could’ve gone either way,” Shattuck said. “Depends on which group of guys and women you get in the Second Circuit you get to listen to it. On the other hand, we’re not going to spend any village money on it. So, if the state wants to then say, ‘We’ll give you Article 10 money to follow up with this,’ then we’ll pursue that.”
As the two sides were involved in the court case, the Cayuga were also planning an expansion of their gaming venture. In April, The Auburn Citizen daily newspaper reported the tribal nation would expand by building a second gaming venue on the same property. The new building would house more than 140 Class II machines to go with the slots at Lakeside.
The Cayuga is working with the Village Planning Board on that project. That’s a result of the initial ruling in the case last year, which stated that the tribe’s sovereignty did not exempt them from abiding by the community’s other ordinances. Village officials do have some concerns about a retention pond, as well as traffic bottlenecking on the community’s main street.
Shattuck told Casino.org that officials are treating the tribe the same as anyone else coming before them.
We’re just making sure that all the t’s are crossed and I’s are dotted,” Shattuck said.
When asked if this week’s ruling changes anything for Cayuga’s second facility, spokesperson John Lovallo told Casino.org: “The Nation will explore all available opportunities moving forward.”
Trust Application Denied
As a Class II operator, the Cayuga Nation is a recognized tribe that can offer video gaming terminals that are based on bingo games.
However, last year the US Interior Department rejected its trust application, citing a February 2020 incident as a significant reason for turning down the request for nearly 130 acres the Cayuga Nation owns to be removed from New York’s jurisdiction.
On Feb. 22, 2020, members of the nation’s police force, working under Halftown’s orders, destroyed a daycare, a school, and a store operated by a faction of the tribe that refuses to acknowledge Halftown as the tribal leader. A lawyer for the Unity Council, which also opposes the nation’s gaming operations, claimed the police officers threatened to kill guards watching the buildings.
Members clashed again the following week, according to media reports.
In the rejection notice, the Interior Department said the bulldozing of the properties and the “significant acts of public violence” undermine any trust the Cayuga can operate peacefully, and taking land into trust would only make matters worse between the tribe and its neighbors.
That federal decision set back efforts for the Cayuga to pursue a tribal compact with New York and develop a Class III full-fledged casino.