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Critics hope court ruling dooms proposed casino in Finger Lakes region

Local critics of a proposed Finger Lakes casino are hoping that a weekend court decision will prevent the gambling facility from ever opening its doors.

The critics worry that the proposed casino in Tyre – a small town in Seneca County, 116 miles east of Buffalo – could divert millions of dollars in revenue from casinos in Western New York, and also cause an estimated 1,100 people to lose their jobs.

The proposed casino in Tyre is now in jeopardy, thanks to a Friday ruling from the 4th Department of the State Court Appellate Division. The court said members of Tyre’s Town Board failed to follow proper procedures under state law when they decided in 2014 that the new casino would have no negative environmental impacts on Tyre.

“It would be really great if this permanently prevents the casino from opening, but I cannot be sure,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, is one of five state lawmakers from Western New York who have been fighting the Tyre casino.

Opponents of the project estimate that a competing casino in Tyre could take away tens of millions of dollars in revenues, and cause 1,100 people to lose their jobs at Western New York casinos run by the Seneca Nation of Indians, Delaware North and New York State.

“In their own application documents, the casino developers have said most of this new casino’s business would come from other casinos,” Daniel A. Spitzer, a Buffalo attorney for the casino opponents, told The Buffalo News on Monday. “They have said they were going to take at least 50 percent of their revenues from other, existing casinos. We think this is a good decision for all the existing casinos in Western New York.”

The facility, called the Lago Resort & Casino, would be built on a site near the New York State Thruway and close to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

Thomas C. Wilmot, a Rochester developer who heads the casino project, said Monday that he is “frustrated” over the court’s decision, but Wilmot said he believes the decision is nothing more than a “judicially mandated detour” that will only cause a “temporary delay” in the project.

The developer said his company will “suspend continued construction on Lago” until the casino plan is “approved once again by the Tyre Town Board.”

“I am confident that we will clear this hurdle,” Wilmot said in a written statement.

Spitzer said he represents a group of at least 10 families who live in the Tyre area and strongly oppose having a casino built in a “small farming community with many Amish people.”

Buffalo-based Delaware North also opposes the Lago project. In a lawsuit filed in March, the company said the Finger Lakes casino would “cannibalize” revenues from gambling facilities that employ thousands of people in Batavia, Hamburg, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, and also in Central New York.

Officials of the Seneca Nation, which runs casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, wrote a letter last year to the state Gaming Commission opposing the casino in Tyre.

A Delaware North spokesman declined to comment Monday on the ruling, as did officials from the Seneca Nation.

In January, five state lawmakers sent a letter to the gambling commission opposing the Tyre casino. They were Peoples-Stokes; Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Clarence; Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda; Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo; and Sen. Marc Panepinto, D-Buffalo.

The lawmakers said many Western New York casino workers would lose their jobs if the casino opens in Tyre.

“To me, we already have more than enough casinos in Western and Central New York,” People-Stokes said on Monday. “We need no more casinos in this area – none, ever.”

She said a “huge number of people” in New York State clearly want access to casinos, “but we don’t need another casino every 20 to 40 miles.”

“We’ve seen too many people become addicted to gambling,” Peoples-Stokes said.

The Tyre casino was approved last year by a siting panel from the state Gaming Commission, but the project still has to get approved for a gaming license by the full commission.

Spitzer said the court’s decision gives Tyre town leaders a chance to take another look at the casino project.

“It’s also another opportunity for New York State to look at whether this casino in a swamp, which is going to take most of its business from other casinos, is really the right thing for New York State to do,” he said.

Supporters of the Tyre casino said the project would bring jobs and badly needed revenue to the Finger Lakes area.

“I think it will only be shot down if people who live in that area really rise up and fight against it,” Peoples-Stokes said.