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Buffalo casino expansion driven by amenities

The Seneca Gaming Corp. believes there is still ample demand for the region’s casinos, and is putting $40 million behind that premise.

Elected officials and Seneca Nation leaders shoveled dirt instead of snow on Thursday, at a ceremonial groundbreaking for an expansion of the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo. The project is scheduled for completion in spring 2017.

“The gaming industry, once you stop you’re going to go backwards,” said Barry E, Snyder Sr., chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp. “So we can’t ever stop, we’re going to have to keep moving forward. I think we’re finding out we have to add more amenities other than slot machines, create more of a family atmosphere than just the slot player on the floor.”

The new amenities will include a new Western Door concept restaurant, and a performance stage for live entertainment at Stixx Sports Bar.

The region’s casino population has grown over the years, from facilities in Niagara Falls to Buffalo to Salamanca, raising the question of possible market saturation.

“There’s always concerns about it,” Snyder said. “We try to maximize what we could do in each area, and each area is unique. We look at the Niagara Falls area as being Niagara Falls. We look at Buffalo as part of a neighborhood and the local people that are in the area.” The Salamanca casino is “closer to Erie (Pa.) and Ohio.”

Critics of casino gambling call the expansion as a step backward, arguing that it will have a detrimental impact on the low-income neighborhoods nearby.

The vision for the Buffalo casino has shifted over the years. After a temporary location opened in 2007, plans for a more-lavish permanent casino and hotel complex halted in 2008. When a scaled-back permanent casino opened in 2013, Snyder recalled, “we got a report: this is going to do it for a while, 10 years, whatever it is. As we know, that was about two years ago.”

What changed in the interim, he said, was more development, from the opening of HarborCenter to the growth of Canalside, that made downtown more appealing to visitors.

“All of a sudden, here we are in this little casino,” Snyder said. “It could handle probably 50 percent more. So we decided as a corporation, as a Nation, to move forward and expand down here.” The project will add about 28,500 square feet on each of two levels, and is projected to create about 300 jobs.

The expansion is also expected to generate about 400 construction jobs.

“It means we’ll be getting a good amount of work, a decent amount of work,” said Paul Brown, president of Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council. “The Seneca Nation is awesome to deal with, the best there is.”

The project’s timing is also good for some of the workers, Brown said. “The basic trades, the ironworkers, they’re a little soft right now because it’s the middle of the winter. It’s a big boost for them.”