There was not a seat to be had Tuesday night on the gambling floor of the new Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, while on the roof of its four-story parking garage Seneca dignitaries, local officials and famous faces from Western New York celebrated the casino’s grand opening.
“It’s a huge makeover for this portion of the city,” said Kevin W. Seneca, chairman of Seneca Gaming Corp. “It’s becoming a new entertainment district for Buffalo, instead of an old manufacturing area.”
The 67,000-square-foot casino is the first gambling destination in Buffalo city limits to offer table games along with the slot machines familiar to patrons of the temporary casino that opened on the site in 2007.
“It’s not only good for us, it’s always been good for Western New York and the City of Buffalo,” said Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. “It’s something we knew we could do. And when the Senecas say they’re going to do something, they do it.”
Former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who supported the Senecas’ casino plans from the beginning, was on hand to mark the occasion.
“I remember like it was yesterday when we first started talking about a casino in Buffalo and Western New York,” Masiello said. “There was a lot of opposition and a lot of doubt. But these are good neighbors, and I think it will be good for the neighborhood.”
Those original plans included a hotel and high-end restaurant and entertainment venues, much like the Seneca casinos and resorts in Salamanca and Niagara Falls. After 10 years of legal challenges, an economic downturn and the reinvention of the Buffalo waterfront, the scaled-down, gambling-only casino was built instead, with three small restaurants and no lodging.
Rep. Chris Collins, who was Erie County executive during much of the back-and-forth over the project, said he approved of the final product.
“Compared with what was initially proposed, this fits a lot better,” said Collins, R-Clarence. “It’s not competing with anything, compared to the big hotel plans. It fits in the Cobblestone District. People do like gaming, and I think this will be good for the city and good for Western New York.”
No one had to go far to see that people do like gaming. After a soft opening earlier this month while the table games were installed and the slot machines were moved from the temporary building, everything was open for business Tuesday.
Customers were crowding the craps tables and elbowing around the roulette wheels, as well as taking nearly every seat in front of the slot machines.
Meanwhile, on the rooftop, servers with trays of beef Wellington and lobster puffs passed among a smiling crowd of Senecas and their supporters, including Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure, former Buffalo Sabre and hockey analyst Mike Robetaille and former Common Council Member James Pitts, who is now working on developing and improving housing in the area, and feels the Senecas will be part of its growth.
“Finally, this area is getting its due,” Pitts said.
Before the official opening ceremonies, Keven Seneca said that Seneca Gambling approaches its casinos differently than other national gaming operations.
“They put up a casino and that’s it. For us, this is our home here, and we take a lot of pride in it,” he said.
The pride was reflected when Steve Gordon, a native speaker, opened the event with an intricate traditional blessing.
In Seneca, he gave thanks for “everything,” he said later – from Mother Earth to the plants and the trees, medicines and birds, the air, the thunder, and the sun, moon and stars, all the way through the four messengers and the creator.
It was not the kind of casino ribbon-cutting ceremony you would see on the Vegas Strip, but for a company that didn’t exist 12 years ago and has grown to 4,000 employees since then, it seemed heartfelt.