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Buffalo casino is illegal and a raw deal for the city

Recent news stories suggest that the Seneca Gaming Corp. plans to proceed to build a permanent casino in downtown Buffalo, near its current, temporary casino. There are two big problems with this plan: It is illegal, and it will do great harm to local businesses and residents.

The casino is illegal because, under federal law, gambling is permitted only on certain types of Indian land -- not including the land purchased in downtown Buffalo. The plaintiffs in the anti-casino lawsuit have won this point once in federal court and expect to win it again in the current litigation.

Even if the casino were legal, it would still be a terrible idea. Casinos kill local businesses and jobs -- especially casinos like Buffalo Creek, which draw primarily from local residents.

Professor Steve Siegel estimates that for every three slot machines, our region will lose two jobs. Other businesses can't compete with the free and discounted food, lodgings and entertainment that casinos offer; this is how Atlantic City lost 235 of its 311 restaurants and taverns.

And because slot machines are such a brutally efficient, mechanized way to make money, casinos create far fewer jobs than they destroy at other businesses.

The worst-case scenario is a casino located in a high-poverty neighborhood of a high-poverty city. While our metro region's poverty rate is about average, the City of Buffalo has a poverty rate of roughly 30 percent. In the neighborhood of the casino, the poverty rate is almost 60 percent. When it comes to gambling, location matters. The closer you live to a casino, the higher your chance of becoming a problem gambler.

People with low incomes have three times the rate of pathological gambling as others. Minorities, women, less educated people and youth all suffer from higher rates of problem gambling.

Problem gamblers are the backbone of the casino industry, accounting for between one-quarter and one-half of the revenue. Thus, in 2009, when visitors lost some $36 million to the slots at Buffalo Creek, between $8 million and $20 million came from problem gamblers.

It's not just the gamblers who pay the costs. We all pay as rates of crime, mental illness, substance abuse and bankruptcy increase. The state of Maryland found that 62 percent of gamblers in treatment had committed crimes as a result of gambling; a survey of 400 Gamblers Anonymous members found that 57 percent had stolen to gamble, stealing collectively an astonishing $30 million.

A huge body of research confirms that casinos create far more costs than benefits. Our elected leaders should work with the Seneca Nation to create real economic development that adds real value to the region -- not an illegal gambling operation that kills businesses and jobs and exacerbates our urban poverty crisis.

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Sam Magavern is co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good and a member of Citizens for a Better Buffalo.

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