ALBANY – The three racetrack-based casinos in Western New York no longer are allowed to use “casino” and “slot machines” when marketing their facilities.
The State Gaming Commission took the step Thursday, fulfilling the terms of an agreement Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. signed in June, ending a $600 million, four-year dispute over allegations that the state permitted banned forms of gambling into the Senecas’ exclusive casino zone.
That zone, part of the compact the state and tribe signed in 2002, gives the Senecas certain gambling monopolies in a large area extending westward from Sodus Point on Lake Ontario and south to the Pennsylvania line.
Track officials say the looming rule change, which undoes something the state told the tracks they should start doing four years ago, will have a real financial impact on their casinos.
Casino officials at Hamburg were not available to comment. Buffalo’s Delaware North Cos. owns Finger Lakes racetrack’s casino south of Rochester; and Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., a public entity owned by all the counties in Western New York and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, owns the Batavia track and casino.
Michael Kane, president of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., said the new rule change will cost the Batavia facility about $500,000. That covers the cost of changing all its media ads, signs, business cards, thousands of T-shirts and coffee mugs. “You pretty much name it. Those all have to go,” Kane said.
Even before the regulations take effect, the Batavia casino already has started calling itself Batavia Downs Gaming. Moreover, of the casino’s 640 gambling machines, 54 have to be replaced under the terms of the deal between Cuomo and the Senecas because they look too much like real slot machines, even though they are technically “video lottery terminals” that are hooked up to a central computer in Schenectady run by the State Gaming Commission.
Besides the direct costs, Kane believes the change will have an effect on future business, though he is confident Batavia’s current customer base will remain loyal. “Would Lottery have suggested this originally if they thought it wouldn’t have an impact? The answer is no,” Kane said.
Kane said the Western New York tracks hope the state can ease some of the financial pain by temporarily reconfiguring the formula by which they are eligible for a share of marketing or capital fund money under the state’s racetrack betting program.
As part of the deal, which the State Gaming Commission advanced Thursday morning, the state would undo rules the State Lottery Commission approved four years ago letting three racetrack-based casinos market themselves as if they were full-scale casinos.
It is uncertain when the rule will receive final adoption, as the proposal now goes through a rule-making process, including public comments, that could take a couple of months or more.
The adoption of the proposed rule comes a day after Cuomo and Snyder barnstormed around Western New York handing out revenue-sharing checks to Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca that had been stalled during the dispute.