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NIAGARA FALLS – Patrons who are 18 and up but not old enough to legally drink will be allowed to gamble in a special section of Seneca Niagara Casino beginning Thursday.

Casino officials announced last week that a balcony area overlooking the main gambling floor will be walled off and security put in place in order to accommodate the younger patrons.

The area will be called “The Mezz” and continue to contain slot machines. But no alcohol will be served in that section.

Previously, only those 21 and older were allowed into the casino, even though state law permits anyone 18 and up to gamble.

Since the casino opened, it has been offering free alcoholic drinks to patrons while they gamble – on both slots and table games – so the facility precluded those under the legal drinking age from entering.

The casino will require patrons to show identification when entering and exiting the new section.

Other gambling facilities across the state already allow those 18 and over to enter and gamble. Casinos across the border in Canada, where the drinking age is 19, allow those 19 and up to enter and gamble in their facilities.

“The balcony has been a very popular gaming area since we opened, and patrons enjoy not only the games that are offered, but also the location overlooking the gaming floor,” Seneca Gaming Corp. President and CEO Cathy Walker said in a written statement. “The Mezz gives us a unique, controlled location by which to introduce younger customers to all of the excitement available at Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel and, in our opinion, a more rewarding entertainment experience than what they are accustomed to at other regional gaming venues.”

Earlier this month, casino officials showed off the nearly completed $26 million in renovations to the facility, including a redesigned gambling floor, brighter lights and a $6 million air-handling system to improve air quality.

New patrons age 18 through 20 will be permitted to sign up for a Seneca Player’s Club card and be eligible to receive limited rewards, casino officials said, adding that they expect The Mezz to be most popular during evening and weekend hours.

“Creating a new environment in The Mezz is a continuation of the transformation that has been felt throughout the resort, most notably with our beautiful new casino,” Jim Wise, senior vice president of marketing at Seneca Gaming, said in a written statement.

email: niagaranews@buffnews.com