Earlier this year, Brandon had brushed aside questions regarding both the terms of the loan agreement (SNI must pay a whopping 29% interest on the loan) and also concerns about whether the loan could be construed as a management contract, meaning, in effect, that Freemantle is managing the gaming operations of the casino.

“The Most Scrutinized Document in Indian Gaming History.”

The SNI Tribal Council has now hired Mr. Brandon, who is part Seneca, to handle negotiations for financing of four more WNY casinos. In an effort to downplay Seneca Niagara financing problems, Mr. Brandon was brought in to give a presentation and answer questions at public meetings held on the August 18 and 19 at the Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations, respectively.

Robert Jones, Co-Chairman of the Senecas for Justice and Preservation, was on hand at those meetings and challenged Brandon to defend his role in the Seneca Niagara deal.

“The Seneca people were very concerned – from the beginning – that the Tribal Council was moving too fast for our own good,” he told Alt. “We didn’t want land claims or taxes or any issues relating to our sovereignty to be included in these casino negotiations and we were concerned that they weren’t crossing all their t’s and dotting all their i’s.”

“Now this NIGC letter comes out and states that this is exactly what happened,” Jones continued. “ It was a bum’s rush. They were desperate for a loan, so they went to Freemantle and said, ‘We’ll give you whatever you want, just give us the money.’ And that’s what this NIGC letter proves.”

About Brandon’s latest involvement, not as a member of a federal oversight commission, but as a representative of the Seneca Nation, Jones was adamant that Brandon and the Tribal Council be held responsible for all of the problems in the Freemantle fiasco.

“They said that this agreement was the most heavily scrutinized document in the history of Indian gaming,” Jones said. “Well, if that’s the case, why was it so screwed up? Why did they put our sovereignty at risk? And now we’re supposed to trust this guy Barry Brandon with more financing deals? We can’t trust him. That NIGC letter proves that he screwed up. It’s embarrassing. And now we’re supposed to bring him in to screw up again?”

This issue of the SNI Tribal Council’s rush to open four more WNY casinos while opening up legal loopholes in the Nation’s sovereignty will definitely be a factor in the Seneca’s referendum on the proposed Allegany casino on Sept. 9.

In her letter Coleman said that a management contract requires the approval of the NIGC Chairman is required. She also states, unambiguously, that this is the case with the Seneca Niagara Casino.

Who Really Runs The Seneca Niagara Casino?

In Coleman’s analysis, “…with respect to the default provisions, we find that the agreements would give Freemantle the right to manage, control, and operate the Seneca Niagara Falls Casino upon default by the SNFGC (Seneca Niagara Falls Gaming Corp.). We also find that the primary loan agreement gives Freemantle ultimate control over new equipment leases and purchases. On this basis, we conclude that the loan agreements, and related documents, constitute a management contract.”

In discussing these default provisions Ms. Coleman states that, “The Term Loan Agreement and related documents have a number of remedial default provisions, which permit the transference of control, operation and management of the Casino to Freemantle, or its designee, in the event of a default.”

Coleman specifically mentions the threat that the Freemantle deal poses to the sovereignty of the SNI, “IGRA ( the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) recognizes the importance of tribal governments running gaming, and thus imposes certain limitations on Indian gaming operations. They have to be regulated by the tribe; they have to be owned by the tribe; and they have to be operated by the tribe. These are the fundamental underpinnings of Indian gaming, based on the time-honored principles of tribal sovereignty, which distinguishes it from gaming in the private arena. The above-cited remedial default provisions collectively permit regulation, operation and ownership by an entity other than the Nation. We are also completely unconvinced that a court can appoint a receiver for a tribal gaming operation; a court appointed receiver would usurp a tribe’s ability to own, regulate and operate its gaming enterprise.”

In summary, Coleman stated that, “…we conclude that this agreement, when considered together with all related documents, is a management contract, and, therefore, requires approval of the NIGC Chairman. Please be advised that an unapproved gaming management contract is void.”

Analysis

In terms of sovereignty, what would happen if the SNI were to default on the loan? Impossible, casino advocates say. If the Seneca Niagara Casino is, as Ms. Coleman asserts, under the management of Freemantle or an anonymous “designee”, there is some question as to whether the tribe has been given an honest accounting of the bookkeeping at the casino.

A carbon copy of Coleman’s letter was sent to Michael Anderson an attorney for another D.C. law firm, Monteau & Peebles & Crowell. It was not clear at press time who Anderson is representing or why he was sent a carbon copy of the memo.

The Buffalo News has reported that the City of Niagara Falls is due to receive 9 million dollars from the casino, however great that news is for the struggling community of Niagara Falls, the fact remains that this casino run by outsiders, does, in fact, represent a threat to the Nation’s sovereignty. The fantastic numbers for Seneca Niagara have not been translated into dollars in the pockets of Senecas on the reservations. Critics, like Mr. Jones are asking about what kind of legal precedent would be set for the Seneca Nation if assets on sovereign territory were subject to legal seizure by anonymous, private corporate interests, as a matter of course.

Although the NIGC appears to consider the current management contract void, the casino continues to operate. The Sept. 9 referendum gives Senecas the opportunity to voice their opinion on whether or not the Nation should continue to operate this major facility and perhaps another on the Allegany reservation in this kind of legal gray area. Gaming Commission Memo Shows Threat to Seneca Sovereignty

By John McMahon

One of the most important concerns to the Seneca Nation of Indians has been the struggle to maintain its status as a sovereign nation. Alt has obtained a copy of an internal document from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) which states that the loan agreement between the SNI Tribal Council and Malaysian Billionaire Lim Goh Tong’s Freemantle Limited for financing of the Seneca Niagara Casino may represent a threat to the sovereignty of the Seneca Nation. (See www.altpressonline.com for the complete letter.)

The document in question is a letter dated May 2 of this year from Peggy Coleman, acting General Counsel for the NIGC to Barry Brandon, former General Counsel for the Commission, and now with high-powered, Washington D.C. law firm, Akin Gump.