The Seneca Nation made a lot of promises when it negotiated a deal to open a casino in Buffalo. It should be held to its word.
A News analysis found that early promises of a thousand jobs, improved streets and marketing pitches to gamblers outside Western New York appear to have been only partially fulfilled. Traffic signals remain missing at two intersections near the casino. Nearby rebuilt streets look more narrow than anticipated.
The Senecas have done well in some aspects at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, such as minority hiring, although missing the thousand-employee mark and employing 459 workers. But the fact that marketing efforts appear to target local residents is most disturbing.
Documentation on whether the Seneca Nation spent $1.7 million a year to market the casino outside the region, spending required by the 2006 deal, was difficult to find. The Seneca Gaming Corp. has not filed the required annual certificate.
The casino’s annual marketing presentation to the Common Council, another requirement, has not occurred. Such evidence feeds into what critics maintained all along: that the Buffalo casino, in the Old First Ward next to the Cobblestone District, would pull from low-income nearby residents. Casino opponents have long maintained that these are the very people who gamble away their meager savings. It is an argument difficult to counter in the face of a lack of real evidence showing that the Senecas have been earnestly marketing outside the region.
Mayor Byron W. Brown still believes that the city’s bargain with the Seneca Nation is “a good deal for Buffalo.” His administration points out that the Seneca Nation constructed a $130 million casino, released $15.5 million in local revenues to the city, invested nearly $4 million in infrastructure improvements around the casino with more improvements slated for the future and created nearly 500 new jobs and marketed the casino outside the area.
Moreover, the report shows that the Senecas not only followed through on some promises, such as hiring minorities and women far and above the goals in the casino deal, but did other things in service, such as awarding grants to community organizations that were not required.
Undoubtedly, one of the nation’s poorest cities can find good use for the $170 million in direct and indirect spending with local companies that will result from the procurement of goods and services for the permanent Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, touted by December reports from Catherine Walker, president and CEO of Seneca Gaming Corp.
Delaware Council Member Michael L. LoCurto, who has always opposed the casino, will not be deterred in his quest to get the city to pursue legal action against the gaming corporation for failing to fulfill other parts of the agreement.
The Senecas did indeed present lofty plans. Like many, they had to temper their expectations amid the economic downturn in 2008. Visions of building a much grander and more expensive casino with many more slot machines and high-end restaurants gave way to a more modest 67,000-square-foot casino with 808 slot machines and 20 table games. The food offerings from local namesakes probably work fine for gamblers.
In a strange way, forces that tempered design and size suit casino opponents. Given the opportunity, people inclined to gamble will find a way. They just won’t have as lush an environment in which to do it.
The casino is here and does not appear to be going anywhere any time soon. Therefore, it is incumbent upon local leaders to ensure that the promises being made to the community are kept. That includes infrastructure, education, employment and, most importantly, outside marketing.