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Council intensifies fight to gain casino cash for city

Buffalo's fight for a larger share of revenues from a downtown casino intensified Tuesday when Common Council members met with seven state legislators.

Some stress it's premature to count on any casino windfall, noting the Seneca Nation of Indians has yet to pinpoint an exact time frame for building a facility in the Cobblestone District. Pending lawsuits could also cause delays or even thwart the project.

But officials said it makes sense to discuss financial issues now, pointing to past disputes involving Niagara County and Niagara Falls over how to split revenues from the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls.

City officials renewed their argument that Buffalo should be designated the "host community" for the downtown casino, in hopes of capturing all or most of the local revenue. Some Council members don't think Erie County should be given a nickel unless it starts sharing revenue from the extra 1 percentage-point sales tax.

Some Council members also want the state to increase local government's take from slot machines. Under the agreement, the local share starts at 4.5 percent of the slot take and increases to 6.25 percent in later years. At stake for Buffalo and Erie County is a projected $5 million to $9 million annually.

Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, said the city made a strong argument for capturing a major share of the local revenue.

"I encouraged them to come back to us with a concrete plan for how the resources would be spent," he said.

For example, Tokasz encouraged the city to commit some casino revenue to strengthen neighborhood business districts.

But Tokasz said he doubts the state would reopen the casino compact and earmark more money for local governments. He noted that state lawmakers had already increased the share from the governor's original plan.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, agreed it's unlikely the local delegation could persuade a majority of state lawmakers from other regions to boost the ante to local governments.

However, Hoyt thinks the city stands a better chance of persuading the state to give Buffalo more casino revenues than the county would receive. He said the fact that the county benefited from a tobacco settlement and has refused to share proceeds from the extra sales tax gives Buffalo powerful ammunition.

"Intellectually, anyone can make the case that the city deserves a disproportionate share of the casino revenue," he said.

Council President David A. Franczyk thought the meeting was productive, even if it didn't result in any funding promises.

"There definitely was a sensitivity expressed as it relates to the city's needs," he said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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