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WNY lawmakers want Cuomo to reject casino in Seneca County

ALBANY – Western New York lawmakers are trying to persuade the Cuomo administration to reject an application for a license to build a casino in the Finger Lakes that they say jeopardizes the financial health of existing gambling facilities in the region.

The lawmakers want to halt a Rochester developer’s plans for the Lago Casino & Resort in Tyre in Seneca County, one of three selected last month by a state Gaming Commission casino siting panel.

In an effort promoted by Buffalo’s Delaware North Cos., which owns the Finger Lakes Racetrack and a casino near Rochester as well as running the racetrack-based casino in Hamburg, Democratic and Republican legislators insist the region will become too saturated with casinos if the Tyre casino is built. In the area between Utica and Buffalo, a total of 1,100 casino jobs will be lost at Seneca casinos and a racetrack casino in Batavia, the lawmakers say.

Placing a casino in Tyre would cannibalize 67 percent of the revenues at the existing facilities that stretch generally across the Thruway from Oneida County to Buffalo. Unlike most of the casinos upstate, with the exception of the Indian-owned facilities, the new Tyre facility will be able to have real slot machines and table games, such as poker.

“The commission would be creating an unlevel playing field by placing a casino in Tyre,” warned the lawmakers. Among the lawmakers signing the letter to the Gaming Commission were Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat; Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, a Clarence Republican; Sen. Robert Ortt, a North Tonawanda Republican; and Buffalo Democratic senators Tim Kennedy and Marc Panepinto.

A Gaming Commission panel last month tapped three casinos – Tyre, Schenectady and a site in the Catskills – for the first of what eventually will be seven new commercial casinos. The panel was limited to selecting from certain geographic areas. The Tyre site was at the top of a small, narrow sliver that then dipped far below into the Southern Tier. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other politicians more than a year ago sounded hopes that a casino would be located there.

Voters statewide in 2013 approved a change in the constitution permitting up to seven new casinos. Lawmakers and Cuomo approved separate legislation limiting the locations in the initial round, with no casinos allowed in certain counties that are part of new casino exclusivity zones per agreements between the state and Indian tribes, including the Senecas.

Though the casino siting panel selected Tyre as one of the sites, the actual license for the project still must be approved by the state’s Gaming Commission, which is a Cuomo-run agency.

It would appear to be an uphill effort to try to stop the Tyre facility, but officials in the area have already said there is also likely to be a push to try to reduce state tax rates on existing racetrack-based casinos, such as Hamburg, Batavia and Delaware North’s Finger Lakes racetrack, as a way to help them better compete with the future Tyre casino.