LOCKPORT – The touchy topic of non-Indian casinos will be on the agenda of the Niagara County Legislature on Tuesday.
At the request of Western Regional Off-Track Betting, the Legislature is to consider a resolution supporting full casino gaming, including table games, at the nine racetracks or former racetracks in the state that now host slot machines.
Michael Nolan, chief operating officer and vice president of Western Regional OTB, appeared before the Legislature last week to request the expression of support for turning the “racinos,” especially OTB-owned Batavia Downs, into full-fledged casinos.
Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said the subject isn’t an easy one because the state’s move toward a constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling on non-Indian land is the reason the Seneca Nation gave for cutting off payments of shares of its slot machine profits to the state.
In turn, the state is unable to send the City of Niagara Falls its share, with the result that the city is owed $60 million.
“I wouldn’t expect that any action by this body that would be seen as a detriment to the Falls collecting its casino revenues would pass,” Updegrove said. “I think that’s something we’ll have to discuss.” The resolution, placed on the agenda by Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, doesn’t mention Niagara Falls.
The Senecas claim that the casino compact with the state gives them exclusivity on gaming in this region, a claim Nolan denied, based on his reading of the 2001 state law that originally authorized casino negotiations with the Senecas.
Nolan, who also serves as an Elma town councilman, said the amendment, which would be on the ballot next November if the State Legislature passes it during the 2013 session, envisions limiting legalized gaming to seven sites. He wants Batavia Downs to be one of them.
If Western New York gets a casino at some other site, “certainly that would be detrimental” to Western Regional OTB, Nolan said.
He said the 15 counties and two cities that own it have a major stake in a healthy OTB, including Niagara, whose share of OTB revenue is $240,000 a year.
Since 1974, revenues to Niagara County have totaled $18 million, and the county’s original $55,000 investment in OTB has been repaid 337 times over, Nolan said.
He said OTB has pretty much given up on luring people to its old horse betting parlors, and is closing the ones on Main Street and Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls.
OTB will open a facility in Cruisers, a Falls sports bar, where horse players will bet via video terminals akin to the lottery’s Quick Draw game and also launch an Internet betting site shortly.
“As a legislator in Niagara County, I would lobby for a casino in Niagara County,” said Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. “It does us no good to have a casino at Batavia Downs or Hamburg. That’s in Erie County. It would be crazy for us. We’d be stabbing ourselves in the back.”
Nolan said, “We’re not here asking for exclusivity.”
He said OTB is a better casino deal than the Senecas, who pay (when they are paying) 25 percent of their profits to the state. OTB pays 57 percent, Nolan said.
“We don’t have the big lobbying dollars of the Trumps and the Wynns, but we do have the 17 county governments,” he said.