Rochester developer sees Thruway as way to grow casino industry - The Buffalo News

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Rochester developer sees Thruway as way to grow casino industry

ALBANY – Maybe the Thruway should consider a name change: Casinoway.

In a year or so, drivers heading from Albany to Buffalo could find it as easy to drop money into slot machines near a Thruway exit as they can to grab a burger or doughnuts at a highway rest stop.

The latest casino proposal came Thursday from a Rochester developer who wants to build a Las Vegas-style casino in Seneca County in the Finger Lakes, just a couple of miles outside of the gambling exclusivity zone set aside for the Seneca Nation of Indians.

The Wilmot Casino and Resort, named for Rochester real estate executive Thomas Wilmot, calls for a $350 million facility that the developer believes will draw 9,000 bettors a day.

It would be located in the Town of Tyre in Seneca County just off the Thruway, at Exit 41.

Just a bit west from the proposed casino is Route 14, the north-south state road that forms the boundary of the exclusivity zone for Seneca casinos, where no others are allowed to build a gambling facility.

Wilmot wants his casino within sight of the Thruway.

“It’s right on the Thruway, so it allows traffic to exit the Thruway and basically come right to the site,” he said.

“You want the customer to have the easiest convenience to the casino. The easier we make it, the more business we will do.”

Wilmot estimated that upwards of 90 percent of his proposed casino business would come the Rochester and Syracuse areas.

Following last month’s statewide referendum approval to allow seven new casinos in New York State, there has been a steady rush of potential development proposals in the three upstate regions that will be home to four casinos over the next seven years.

If you were to start driving the Thruway from Albany west toward Buffalo, you would find two proposed casino sites in the Albany area within a two-minute drive of Thruway exits.

Farther west, between Syracuse and Utica, and also within sight of the Thruway, is Turning Stone, the Oneida Indian-owned casino in Verona on 3,400 acres with more than 2,000 slot machines, table games and high-stakes bingo. Its hotel tower can be seen from the Thruway Exit 33.

Just down the road at the same exit is Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel, a casino attached to a harness racetrack.

Drive farther west on the Thruway, past the proposed Wilmot casino at Exit 41, and you can get off at Exit 44 and visit the Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack, which is owned by Buffalo’s Delaware North Cos.

Travel four more exits west, and you can get off in Batavia, where Batavia Downs Gaming is located. It is run by Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., the public entity whose owners include the cities of Buffalo and Rochester and area counties. Finally, travel the Thruway all the way to Buffalo, and bettors can hit two nearby Seneca Nation casinos, in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, or head just a little farther south and get off for the Hamburg harness track.

Despite all those betting opportunities, Wilmot said there are enough bettors for the casino industry to grow along the Thruway.

“We think there’s probably $500 million or $600 million in potential gaming revenues between Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse if everyone was gaming at the national average,” he said. “We don’t have any belief we’re going to capture all that ,but we think we can capture a significant portion of it.”

Wilmot’s casino plan envisions a gambling hall with 2,000 slot machines and 100 table games, and a hotel with five restaurants as part of an overall development project he says will create 1,800 permanent jobs.

Wilmot’s proposed casino fits into one of three upstate geographic areas where the state is permitting up to four casinos to locate during the first phase of the casino expansion program.

Casinos already have been proposed for the Binghamton area, as well as the greater Albany and Saratoga Springs region and the Mid-Hudson Valley/Catskills area.

The casino developers will be chosen by a panel not yet selected by the state’s Gaming Commission, an agency led by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Wilmot’s plan, not his first casino bid, comes about as close as possible to touching the boundary of the Senecas’ exclusivity zone.

Seneca Nation officials were unavailable to comment Thursday.


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