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100 Things Every WNYer Should Do At Least Once: Go to a casino

To go to Niagara Falls is to marvel at a wonder of the world, right in our own backyard.

The cascading water, the changing colored lights, the reminders all around you of the power of nature – you stare, and you ask yourself: Why don’t I come here more often?

Here, to the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino?

Walk into this feather-topped tower, built on the remnants of the old Convention Center, and you’re in a world of glitz. In the lobby, waterfalls behind glass give that Trump Tower look. LED lights change the colors of the water and of columns textured to resemble trees. Artwork pays tribute to nature. Door handles suggest feathers. Rugs have the rich hues of the earth.

I’m not a gambler. Once in a blue moon, I’ll spend a dollar playing penny slot machines, and I did win $50 at bingo, one of the earlier stops on our 100 Things list.

The corner suite on the 26th floor of the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino gives a view on two sides of the room. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The corner suite on the 26th floor of the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino gives a view on two sides of the room. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

[Browse Sharon Cantillon's photo gallery from Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino]

But walking into the gaming area, my eyes grew wide. It stretches between two massive stained-glass windows depicting trees in a rainbow of colors. The effect, from near or far, was stunning.

It wasn’t as smoky as I had expected. They clearly have a good ventilation system, because you can breathe. The noise seemed muffled, and I figured out why: The gaming is coinless. You buy a card, and you feed the card into the machine. I missed being able simply to grab a few pennies from my pockets and try my luck. Well, you win some, you lose some.

Whether you gamble or not, it’s fascinating to wander this place. Treat it like a foreign country.

Stir, the feature bar in the casino, has a 43-foot LED screen and below it is an elevated stage where live music is performed every weekend. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Stir, the feature bar in the casino, has a 43-foot LED screen and below it is an elevated stage where live music is performed every weekend. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

I had no choice. Two of us from The News, because we brought cameras, were escorted around by casino management. Our hosts were warm and welcoming, but we didn’t get a chance to experience anything. We just looked.

Still, it was entertaining in itself, and shows that you don’t have to spend a cent to have fun in this place.

[Read the 100 Things from last week: Stay out all night]

The hotel has 604 rooms, and we got to peek at two on the 25th floor. On one side you could see Toronto, and on the other, the river and the old Nabisco plant. Bathrooms were luxurious.

And speaking of luxury, the whirlpool in the spa, lit by candles, was the loveliest we’ve ever seen. You can use it, I learned, if you get a haircut, for a not-bad $45, in the adjoining salon. Tempting!

“A lot of people enjoy this, when they’re tired of gambling,” said spa and salon manager Maria Adornetto.

The whirlpool inside the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino spa. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The whirlpool inside the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino spa. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Restaurants abound. This being Western New York, none is more famous than the Thunder Falls Buffet. A line forms quickly.

The day we visited was the third Wednesday of the month, when veterans dine free. Robert Cassenti of Lockport, a Vietnam vet, was finishing up lunch with his fiancee, Karen DeFlippo, and her daughter, Tammy Mottorn. They were a merry group.

“I would live at the casino if I could,” Mottorn laughed. “When I pull up, I really feel at home. It’s a place where you forget about all your problems.”

Thunder Falls Buffet is their most popular restaurant. It underwent a $10 million renovation a few years ago. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Thunder Falls Buffet is their most popular restaurant. It underwent a $10 million renovation a few years ago. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

I’d forgotten my problems, too. Splashy images crowded them out.

A Swarovski store, bright as a diamond. Native American artisan shop with herbs bearing the brand name Silver Wolf Walks Alone. A surreal sculpture of an eagle. The Bear’s Den, where B.B. King played, and Stir, a club with a huge HD screen.

And, finally, the mezzanine – Mezz, for short – over the gaming floor.

This is a view from the corner suite on the 26th floor of the hotel. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

This is a view from the corner suite on the 26th floor of the hotel. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

[Read 100 Things to Do: Eat a Jim's Steakout chicken finger sub]

The entire casino was spread out below, in sparkling purples, silvers, oranges, reds, and golds. Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” billowed from the sound system. Around the glittering perimeter, like the solution to a puzzle, I beheld everything I had visited – Thunder Falls, Stir, the Bear’s Den, the lobby, the restaurants. Stained-glass trees gleamed behind us. Another row glimmered, iridescent, in the distance.

What a vista! I’ll never be a gambler. But I bet I’d come back, just for this sight.

Plus, the whirlpool is calling.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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