ALBANY – The Seneca Nation of Indians has hired a developer to help explore a possible casino and hotel project in the Rochester suburbs near the Thruway.
The Senecas, believed to have an option to purchase land in the Town of Henrietta, retained Flaum Management Co. in Rochester to “organize and coordinate” a casino and related hospitality project in the Monroe County town.
The Senecas have long eyed downtown Rochester for a possible casino, though it is uncertain how the new Henrietta endeavor might work, given reluctance in Washington going back to the administration of President George W. Bush to grant new off- reservation casino rights to Indian tribes.
Both Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. and developer David Flaum were shy with details Tuesday. In a written statement, Snyder said the Senecas are looking for “opportunities to grow and complement our gaming operations consistent with our contractual restrictions under the (Seneca Gaming Corp.’s) current financing.” Reached in Arizona, Snyder declined further comment.
In an interview, Flaum, a major upstate real estate developer who gives mightily to New York politicians’ campaign accounts, declined to provide any details of the possible casino deal with the Senecas.
“I love working with the Seneca Nation and really enjoy assisting them with their economic development and job creation, and I think Western New York needs jobs,’’ he said. He said the three-paragraph news release announcing his company’s being hired by the Senecas “is exactly where we are today, no further.”
Henrietta is within the tribe’s large exclusivity zone in Western New York in which no further full-blown casinos with slots and table games can be located. That exclusivity arrangement, first approved in 2002 when the tribe won the rights to develop casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, was recently re-affirmed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a deal ending a bitter, four-year casino revenue-sharing dispute.
Unless the Senecas can get the Henrietta project somehow inserted as an amendment to the 2002 gambling compact, it is uncertain how a new Seneca casino deal would not require approval by Cuomo and the State Legislature, as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Snyder and Flaum declined to discuss those potential hurdles.
“It’s so early in the process. They just hired me,” Flaum said.
A new casino was not a part of the recent deal with Cuomo and the Senecas, nor was the Seneca proposal, vague as it is, a part of the enabling legislation approved by lawmakers and Cuomo to permit up to seven new casinos in the state. That plan goes before voters in November, but the first four casinos are permitted only in three geographic areas of the state – and the Seneca’s exclusivity zone is not one of them.
Flaum has long been interested in casino gambling development. A decade ago, he was eyeing possible casino sites in Niagara Falls and the Catskills. In 2003, the Senecas floated a plan with Flaum for a Catskills casino project. Flaum’s name is among the possible Catskills casino developers being aired if voters approve the casino expansion this fall.
Flaum is also a major political donor. While he has spread money to a host of statewide, party and legislative campaigns, including a number of Buffalo area lawmakers, Flaum and his wife have given the largest amount – $99,000 – to Cuomo during the past four years.