Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gambling on taxes

One of the many ongoing conflicts I enjoy watching is the fight between the State of New York and the Seneca Nation.

I've mentioned before that I think the state is dead wrong in their refusal to ignore the sovereignty of the Senecas and any other Native American tribes doing business on their own lands. My understanding – or belief, at least – is that Native American reservations are unto themselves their own nations and not part of New York. Just as the Vatican is not part of Italy, or the City of Lockport, although fully engulfed by the Town of Lockport is not a part of the town.

This belief in sovereignty that I have leads me to conclude that the state has no more right to impose its will on Native American reservations than it does to impose it's will on Hamilton, Ontario. Sure, the land is within the state boundaries, but again, so is the Vatican surrounded by Italy.

Of course, the problem with this is that the state needs money in order to pay for whatever it is they pay for. I don't think anyone really knows where they money goes. But each year, they need more and more of it. And I have to imagine this makes the folks in Albany say, “Hey, look at those people, spending money on those reservations … we should get some of that.”

The latest turn of events in this public relations fiasco saw four Albany legislators standing firm with the Senecas as that nation said they didn't want to filter their casino payments to “host communities” through New York State anymore. The Senecas say they want to do this to eliminate red tape and get money to the “host communities” faster. I imagine it's really just a shot across the state's bow.

One of those legislators was State Senator George Maziarz. I don't often agree with George, so I kind of like to point out when I do. Kudos, George. We're on the same team for a change.

The state is upset because the Senecas have been withholding the casino payments since the state's more recent declaration they'd be taxing cigarettes and gasoline sold to non-natives on native land. Governor David Paterson and his ilk say the Senecas have broken the casino compact by withholding $200 million in casino payments. The Senecas, meanwhile, say it was the state who broke the compact by allowing competing casinos like the one at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg.

This whole thing could have been avoided if the state had simply made the necessary changes to allow casino gambling in the state. But instead of amending the Constitution, they looked for a loophole and gave the ability to the Senecas in exchange for a percentage of the take.

That “loophole” would seem to me to be an admission by the state that tribal land is not part of the state, which is why they aren't subject to the Constitution … and as a result, not subject to the taxes the state is clamoring for.

I have nothing against gambling, but I don't like the whole loophole bit. I've never understood why gambling is illegal unless it's state sponsored … and a sin unless you're doing it in a church.

If the state would just get its act together and legalize gambling from the top down, I wouldn't have this conundrum of being in agreement with Senator Maziarz.

I'd bet they don't get their act together any time soon, but I don't want to break the law.