Former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson portrays the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls as an island, isolated from the rest of the city. And any development that's happened in the city because of the casino has happened within the walls of that island, he says.
That casino is an apt illustration of how new gaming facilities in New York aren't benefiting communities they locate in, he says.
Johnson was the lead speaker during a press conference this morning, which served as the public debut of the No More Casinos Coalition. The coalition is organized by Western Regional Off-Track Betting and Finger Lakes Gaming and Racing in response to efforts to expand casino gambling in upstate. Coalition members who spoke at the press conference expressed particular concerns about a possible Seneca Nation of Indians casino in the Rochester area. The Senecas have hired Flaum Management to scout out a possible casino location in Henrietta, and have also met with Henrietta officials.
A state ballot measure that cleared the way for non-Indian casinos in upstate doesn't apply to the Rochester area, since the state has granted the Senecas exclusive casino rights in the region. But developer Tom Wilmot has proposed a casino and hotel in the Town of Tyre, in nearby Seneca County.
Johnson and two other speakers at the press conference said that a Seneca casino in Rochester could undermine the business model in place at the Farmington and Batavia racinos, potentially putting people out of jobs and cutting into the economic benefits of those businesses.
Dennis Petrisak, who owns Marketplace Mazda in Henrietta and breeds and races thoroughbreds, said that a local Seneca casino wouldn't have a spillover effect on local businesses. But the tracks' equine industry supports local businesses, such as veterinarians and the farmers who sell their oats and hay to the tracks and horse owners. The racinos also send a considerable chunk of their revenues — 65 percent — to the state.
"The economics show that the model that's there works," Petrisak says.
A Seneca casino, which would likely have table gaming, could lure away patrons and put the track out of business, he said. The state's racinos only have video lottery terminals, which are basically slot machines.
Petrisak's argument was echoed by Sharon Dupler, who has worked at the Finger Lakes racino for more than 10 years.
"Ultimately our jobs are at stake," she said.