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Casino Nation

Publicity Still from Casino Nation
Publicity Still from Casino Nation

In May 2002, a referendum vote was proposed by the Seneca Nation of Indians to bring Class III Las Vegas-style casino gambling to its reservations in upstate New York. Of the 2,000 votes cast, the referendum passed by a mere 100 votes in favor of the measure. Over the summer, while discussing with three friends the Senecas' plan to open a casino, we were convinced the Seneca Nation's metamorphosis from small sovereign nation to a casino nation would make a great documentary, and hence the Casino Nation project was born.

We wanted Casino Nation to have a cinema verité quality where the viewers would feel as if they were in each scene. We also wanted it to be a character driven piece where the film's characters would give their perspective to the many sides of this controversial issue. What do the Senecas have to gain through casinos? What do they stand to lose? Only time would tell.

As we were ready to begin production, we still had one very difficult challenge to overcome: How does one bring a camera crew into a closed community like an Indian reservation and gain access to the tribe's members? This task was made much easier since I am an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation who grew up on the sovereign territories. That, in combination with having 42 first cousins and blood ties to hundreds more, gave the production team the ability to open doors and gain access to potential characters.

Since filming started in October 2002, we have documented the stages of the casino's progress from its construction, opening and subsequent expansions. Also documented are two tribal elections (including political caucuses and campaigns) as well as insightful glimpses into the decision-making processes of those responsible for the casinos' successes.

Terry Jones (Seneca) and co-producer and cinematographer, Paul Wilson, on location on the Seneca Territory
Terry Jones (Seneca) and co-producer and cinematographer, Paul Wilson, on location on the Seneca Territory

Although the subject matter of the film pertains to the Seneca Nation and its casinos, the heart of the film lies within its people. Who are the Seneca people? Aside from the personal stories of the film's characters, it is the intention of the filmmakers to show a visual snapshot of the tribe as a whole as they balance between the modern world and their traditional one. Many of the ancient customs and traditions of the Seneca people have been captured for the film.

Terry Jones (Seneca Nation - Wolf Clan) lives in New York City. He is co-producing Casino Nation with Laure Sullivan, Paul Wilson and Mark Repasky. The film is partially funded by Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) and the Eva and Lucius Eastman Fund. "Casino Nation" is scheduled for release at the end of 2005. More information may be found at



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