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COUNTY SUES FOR SHARE OF CASINO'S SLOTS REVENUE
NIAGARA FALLS, STATE TARGETED IN BID FOR 75%

Niagara County has sued the state and the City of Niagara Falls, demanding 75 percent of the local share of slot machine revenue from Seneca Niagara Casino.

The suit, filed Thursday in State Supreme Court, also seeks an injunction barring any further payments of casino cash to the city until the county is paid.

The move was angrily denounced by Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte and County Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, all Niagara Falls Democrats.

On April 5, the Republican-controlled County Legislature voted 14-4 to file the suit. At the time, it was described as an effort to guarantee a share of the casino money for the Niagara Falls International Airport and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., the countywide tourism promotion agency.

Anello said the city will allow those agencies to have a piece of the action.

"We've said that all along, although some people don't want to acknowledge it," the mayor said.

The resolution, sponsored by County Legislator Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, spoke of seeking "an equitable distribution of casino revenues." There was no mention of trying to take away three-quarters of Niagara Falls' check.

"That wasn't in the resolution," Virtuoso said. "They never said that. This is getting ridiculous. This is just a money grab."

"It's obvious some people don't understand economic development in Niagara Falls benefits the whole county," Anello said. "I think it's about greed."

DelMonte said of the suit, "That's just plain wrong. Not only is it wrong, it's punitive."

DelMonte estimated that the local share of casino revenue this year will be about $11.6 million.

The suit asserts that Niagara County is entitled to 75 percent of the money because Niagara Falls has only about one-fourth of the county's population.

"The complaint says 'by population.' How is that punitive?" Updegrove asked.

He repeated that he wants to guarantee funds for the airport and the tourism agency, but the suit doesn't mention them.

It refers only to getting money that "could have and should have been used to reduce taxes paid by county taxpayers and to pay for services and projects for which other county revenues have had to be spent."

The suit is based on the claim that the county is a "host municipality" for the casino. Both the state's compact with the Seneca Nation and the state Finance Law use that term without defining it.

Niagara County has not received a cent from the casino and played no role in the compact talks, despite its requests to be allowed to participate.

Anello said he is "eager" to hear the views of State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, regarding the suit. Maziarz has played a leading role in working out the division of the local share. He could not be reached Friday.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com