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Foes pledge to close Buffalo casino

Standing in a parking lot Monday with the temporary Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino as a backdrop, anti-gambling forces vowed to file court papers this week aimed at striking a death blow to the downtown casino.

Citizens for a Better Buffalo said it will seek a permanent court injunction, as opposed to trying to temporarily close the small makeshift casino that opened last Tuesday. Casino foes said they're not interested in "Band-Aid solutions," adding that a permanent remedy may take less time to achieve than if temporary skirmishes are launched.

Attorneys for the group said their case will be built around one premise: that downtown land owned by the Seneca Nation of Indians is not sovereign land and therefore cannot be used for gambling.

Lawyer Joseph M. Finnerty pointed to a Seneca Nation flag that rustled in the wind outside the casino.

"The fact that you fly a flag doesn't mean you've got sovereign land," Finnerty said.

Casino opponents said they're "supremely confident" that they'll be able to prove in court that an off-reservation casino in Buffalo is illegal.

"We feel the land status issues are the bullets that will bring down this project," Finnerty said. "They are the kill shot."

Former Rep. John J. LaFalce also attended Monday's news conference. LaFalce co-wrote the Seneca Nation Land Claims Settlement Act, and he said the congressional act was never intended to be used as a vehicle for the Senecas to buy land for gambling.

The Seneca Nation opened the temporary casino in a small metal building on Perry Street last week. The opening occurred after the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission determined that the land in Buffalo meets the exceptions required for new off-reservation Indian casinos.

Casino foes insist the determination is legally flawed.

Erie County is also involved in the court challenge.

Seneca Gaming spokesman Philip Pantano declined to comment on legal issues, but he said efforts are moving forward with plans to build a permanent $125 million casino and entertainment complex.

"Rather than focusing on trying to stop development and hold Western New York back, the Seneca Nation has focused on creating tangible economic development," Pantano said. "That will continue to be our focus.

He added that there have been "standing-room-only" crowds at the small temporary casino since it opened.

But some business owners in the Cobblestone District oppose the casino, said John McKendry, who operates Hi-Temp Fabrications on Perry Street. McKendry claims a lack of planning has created problems for some businesses, citing parking woes as one example.

But McKendry also expressed philosophical opposition to the casino.

"The bottom line is, gambling is the root of all evil," he said.


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