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The Seneca Nation of Indians is proceeding with a plan to build a $130 million casino in downtown Buffalo, even as opposition groups note that the legality of the gambling operation remains under scrutiny in federal court. Outgoing Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter sat down with The News’ Brian Meyer to discuss the project and other issues in the weekly “In Focus” interview series.
Here is a summary of some of the issues discussed. Watch the eight-minute interview at www.buffalonews.com/video.
Meyer: [The proposed downtown] casino is a scaled-down casino. Some critics say this is not going to be the magnet for tourists.
Porter: It’s going to be the right size facility for the location. The economy dealt us a blow from the original plan. What we have now is a facility that was designed in a collaborative manner with our neighbors. We worked not just with the city but with surrounding businesses to make sure that this particular design of the casino maximized traffic flow and integration with what’s going on in the waterfront.
Meyer: At what point do we say there’s saturation? At what point do we say there are too many casinos?
Porter: The gaming corporation of our nation wouldn’t be building this if it weren’t an economic opportunity there. But it’s the right-sized economic opportunity.
Meyer: Is that economic opportunity ... just going to draw money away from Buffalo-area residents, many of whom can least afford it?
Porter: Obviously, there’s no point in building a business like ours that preys on people who don’t have any money. You know, $70 million was going across the river to Fort Erie at one point. That business has shut down ... This is not a business that thrives on a market. And we bring in patrons from Canada, Toronto, Pennsylvania, Ohio. It’s very much a regional business.
Meyer: We know about this [casino revenue] stalemate. It’s the state versus the Seneca Nation. ... What about those folks in Niagara Falls, Salamanca, Buffalo who feel like they’re the pickle in the middle? Niagara Falls has $58 million that the city is not receiving.
Porter: We have the absolute most regard for their concerns when it comes to this issue. I don’t understand why the state hasn’t better protected the local governments who have been affected by this. ... I don’t know why the state government and the governor haven’t been able to loan or otherwise front monies to these local governments.
Meyer: But the finger-pointing is frustrating to people like [Niagara Falls] Mayor Dyster and to some [Buffalo Common] Council members.
Porter: I think it’s a little unfair to put the burden of sustaining local governments on the back of the Seneca Nation. Those local governments are creatures of state law. ... We have done our part. The state has cheated us on this compact, and we’re not going to stand by and allow the state to cheat us on the compact. So we’re following the rules as laid down for dispute resolution. The consequence of this really is on the back of the state. And if the governments in Niagara Falls and Buffalo and Salamanca want to know where their money is, their money is in Hamburg, it’s in Batavia, it’s in the Finger Lakes [referring to racetrack casinos that the state has allowed].