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Buffalo gets advice from Falls on becoming a casino city

Buffalo would likely benefit from a new downtown casino, two Niagara Falls leaders said Wednesday, but they offered advice for avoiding the hassles their city has faced in snaring gambling revenues.

Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello told Buffalo lawmakers to make sure they press for details as the state divvies up revenue a Seneca casino gives to the host community.

Steps must also be taken to end "ambiguities" over how casino host communities are defined, said Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Niagara Falls. A dispute between Niagara Falls and Niagara County over how the local share of gambling revenue should be split has triggered a court fight.

Buffalo officials invited Anello and DelMonte to appear before the Council's Economic Development Committee to get tips as Buffalo moves closer to becoming the newest casino site.

Anello said city officials were kept in an information void as the state hammered out a casino agreement for Niagara Falls. He said local officials were encouraged to "keep quiet" and let negotiators form a package for long-term benefits.

"We were not at the table with negotiators, and some of the things we were told about negotiations weren't true," he said. "Take care of any ambiguities before you sign."

Anello said Niagara Falls received about $9.5 million in casino revenue last year, but the city only had control of about one-third of the money. The state had control over the rest. He described Albany as "the big brother who tells you how to spend your money."

"That's what concerns me," said Joseph Golombek Jr., who represents Buffalo's North District. "I don't trust anyone in Albany."

Council President David A. Franczyk said he worries the county will view a casino as a "cash cow" and try to usurp money belonging to Buffalo. "We need to resolve these things before the first shovel is in the ground," he said.

Despite the ongoing revenue-sharing concerns, Anello and DelMonte said the Niagara Falls casino has produced some benefits. They said at least 30 percent of the facility's employees live in Niagara Falls. They also credited the casino for fueling development of Third Street into what some expect will become a pedestrian-friendly entertainment zone similar to Buffalo's Chippewa strip.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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