ALBANY – The Seneca Nation, already the kings of casino gambling in Western New York, has taken another step in its gambling expansion plans with the $2.7 million purchase of a 32-acre parcel of vacant land in Monroe County.
The tribe, which opened its first casino a decade ago in Niagara Falls and has two others operating in the area, has long poked around the possibility of gaining a gambling hall in the Rochester area.
“This is the first step on a process we will start,” said Catherine Walker, president and chief executive officer of Seneca Gaming Corp., which purchased the commercially zoned site near Interstate 390 that corporation officials said could, if full casino and related development plans come together, employ 2,000 people.
The Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., which is owned by 15 county governments in the region as well as the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, said any new casino by the Senecas would be a violation of their 2002 compact with the state that the OTB owners say limited the Senecas’ gambling footprint to three facilities. The OTB entity already lost out last year to a deal cut by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that restricts its racetrack-based casino in Batavia to market itself as a casino and limited the kinds of gambling devices that can be offered.
“This region is oversaturated with casino gaming, and another facility will cause irreparable harm to thousands of businesses, families and municipalities throughout the region,” said Western Regional OTB Executive Vice President Michael Nolan. Besides the OTB-owned Batavia casino, OTB parlors across the region have been in a tough competitive battle with the Senecas for a limited share of betting dollars.
Walker said it is too soon to determine if the tribe would need to get federal approval – which would not be an easy task given the reluctance in the past decade by Washington to grant off-reservation casinos to Indian tribes. The Senecas, though, envision a partnership with at least one developer, Rochester businessman David Flaum, for the possible casino in Monroe County’s Henrietta; whether a deal could be structured to get the tribe around having to go to the federal government for approval is unclear.
Walker, in an interview, said it is uncertain what precisely the Senecas will do with the site until after they hold meeting with local officials in Monroe County.
Under the deal agreed to last year by Cuomo and lawmakers, the region in which the Senecas hold exclusive, full casino rights – westward from Route 14, a state road east of Rochester that runs from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border – is barred from getting any new, non-Indian casinos. Separately, voters statewide last November approved a change in the State Constitution to permit up to seven new non-Indian casinos; the initial round of four casinos limits them to an area around the greater Albany region, the southern tier near Binghamton running to a slice of land just east of Route 14, and the Catskills/Mid-Hudson Valley.
Seneca officials sought to downplay the criticisms of the Western Regional OTB by noting that the deal by Cuomo last year spreads Seneca casino-revenue sharing proceeds beyond just Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca to include all casinos in its exclusivity zone.
While the Seneca Gaming Corp. is being elusive with its plans, the company noted the new site it purchased is “ideally suited” for a full-blown casino with hotel and other entertainment amenities.
While there is much debate in the industry whether New York’s market is or will be saturated with casinos, Seneca officials say a Rochester-area gambling hall could attract bettors from the local market as well as out-of-state visitors.