The Seneca Nation of Indians now has exclusive casino rights in much of New York's western end, including Rochester. But that doesn't mean a Seneca-run casino will open here anytime soon. Or ever.
The Seneca Nation was granted exclusive rights as part of the resolution of a longstanding dispute with the state over gaming revenues. That means any full-fledged casino in Rochester would be owned and operated by the Senecas. And Seneca officials have had exploratory talks with city and county officials in the past, says Mayor Tom Richards.
Richards says he's not opposed to a casino, but he's cautious and doesn't see it as an economic panacea for Rochester. He says that a site would have to be selected carefully and that he doesn't support putting a casino downtown.
Opening a Seneca casino in Rochester would be a complicated decision involving issues ranging from money to community character, Richards says. And it'd also involve negotiating contracts between the Seneca Nation and the city, Monroe County, and New York State.
The Seneca Nation owns its existing Western New York casinos, which are all on tax-exempt sovereign land ceded by local governments. In return for giving up the land, the local governments, as well as the state, get a cut of gross gambling revenues.
"You're in the business with them," Richards says. "You're in the business of gambling."
City Council President Lovely Warren, who is challenging Richards in this year's mayoral primary, says she would want to know how city residents would benefit from a proposed casino, as well as how many permanent jobs would be created, what the city's cut would be, the location, and how the casino would look.
"At this point in time, I'm not leaning one way or another," Warren says.
Richards and Warren say there are casino models that offer gaming without amenities like hotels or entertainment. Those models encourage visitors to patronize other businesses and attractions, they say, and may be a better option for Rochester.