Is NY Indian Gambling Legal?Published June 18, 2003 by OCR Editor
There are currently three Indian casinos operating in New York: the Seneca Indians' new casino in Niagara Falls; the Oneida Indians' Turning Stone casino near Utica and the Mohawks' casino, which the state's highest court essentially said is operating ill
Last week, judges on the state's highest court revealed some significant disagreements among themselves over whether Indian-run casinos are legal in New York. In a 60-page ruling, the seven Court of Appeals judges sent mixed signals about the question of the validity of Indian gambling. One of the judges indicated the constitution prohibits such operations in New York. Three of the judges noted they believe the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act supersedes the state constitution and permits Indian-run casinos. The other three judges did not give a hint last week how they'd rule on the constitutional question. Their opinions are crucial- a state Supreme Court justice is expected to decide a case in Albany, challenging the constitutionality of Indian operations. This case will probably become the make-or-break case on the question of the casinos' legality when it reaches the Court of Appeals.
The lawyer who is arguing against the casinos, Cornelius Murray, said he wants the number of legal venues to stay at three. He is not seeking to have existing casinos closed, and he probably realizes that there are very few, if any, judges that would order thriving enterprises to close- about 5,000 people work at the three existing Indian casinos today.
Court of Appeals' Judge George Bundy Smith was unequivocal last week about what the constitution says about casino gambling. The constitution forbids gambling, except for limited exceptions, and prohibits commercialized gambling, he said. If the elected representatives of the people want to change the policy, they should begin the process of amending the constitution.
The three dissenting judges, Richard Wesley, Susan Phillips and Victoria Graffeo, agreed with Smith. They indicated that the federal Indian gaming act supersedes the constitution's prohibitions against casinos. However, Wesley has been confirmed by the U.S. senate to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals and will be leaving the state Court of Appeals within the next few weeks. His successor will be nominated in a couple of months.
Murray is confident on the underlying constitutional question, and is eager to see how the case before Teresi will turn out when it reaches the state Court of Appeals, a process that could take a year or more.