The new Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino staged its soft opening nearly a year ago.
Seneca Gaming Corp. President and CEO Catherine Walker sat down with The News’ Brian Meyer to talk about a variety of casino-related issues. She stopped short of divulging precise figures involving the number of visitors. But Walker insisted the casino, which remains the focus of a court fight, is an early success.
Here is a summary of some topics covered in an interview that is part of the “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview at www.buffalonews.com.
Catherine Walker: We are on track to exceed our projections in terms of visitation. I can tell you that we continue to see large growth in people from outside the region visiting the property. And we have a number of partnerships with different businesses where we do ticket exchange. You go to Shea’s, for example, bring your ticket (stub) in, and we give you free play. And we keep seeing those programs grow and grow. So from our perspective, this adds another stop on a visit. It’s one of many things that a visitor can do, so we think that it is continuing to help attracts tourists to the region as well.
Brian Meyer: A 2006 agreement with the city called for the casino to spend about $1.7 million a year marketing to outside regions. That plan finally has been put together.
Walker: We were excited to able to announce, in partnership with the Seneca Nation, the City of Buffalo and [Visit Buffalo Niagara], our agreement and plan for this coming year for the Buffalo sponsorship. Basically what it involves is reaching out to further areas – Toronto, to Markham, to Ohio, to Pennsylvania – and getting the word out about how great Buffalo is as a city, what many things there are to do here in terms of attractions, events, summer festivals. We really think we have a great partnership set up with the VBN. And it’s something that we don’t see in other regions ...
Meyer: The casino that was built is much smaller than the casino that was envisioned back in 2006. You know that some critics have said that due to its smaller size, the ability to be the tourism magnet that many people expected was pretty much demolished.
Walker: We actually see it opposite to that ... We have partnerships with the hotels in the area, so that individuals who are looking to stay overnight, we’re working with other business leaders to provide that type of an experience. We have partnerships with the Bisons. We have a number of restaurateurs who provide their product here ... We have continued to look for other business partners in the community and hope to see that focus continue over the next year.
Meyer: There’s still a court battle over [Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino] ... doesn’t that kind of put almost a cloud of uncertainty over the long-term future of this casino?
Walker: We believe at the end of the day that people will recognize that the casino provides an entertainment experience, just like a movie theater or other types of entertainment experiences that are offered in the region. And it also helps attract new visitors here. Plus it provides good-paying jobs with terrific benefits, so we think that it is overall a great positive for the community.
Meyer: But do you worry that at some point, there may be some court that’s going to say “close it?”
Walker: I believe we’re on our third or fourth iteration of this lawsuit. So I’m assuming that at the end of the day, there may be a fifth iteration. But at the end of the day, the Nation has been successful in every one of these suits, and we continue to believe that that success will continue.
Meyer: In your estimation, how close is Western New York to market oversaturation when it comes to casinos?
Walker: One of the things that we have to think about is all the other development going on in Western New York. Whether it’s [Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus], whether it’s the HarborCenter or some of the other things that we see happening in the region, all of those are designed to bring more employment opportunities to individuals and to bring growth back here. Likewise, being so close to Toronto, which continues to be a large growth [area] in North America, we think there is still some opportunity there. But you’re right, there’s more competition coming on board. We know that New York has commercial gaming licenses that will be given out ...
Meyer: But do the existing casinos rely on the possibility of [economic] growth?
Walker: That’s why the [marketing] agreement is so important. Because you really have to extend your reach outside of your local market.