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Another Voice: New casino agreement should focus on local communities

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As summer and tourist season wind down, negotiations on a new casino compact agreement with the Seneca Nation will soon begin. In 2002, local and state politicians touted how opening Seneca Niagara Casino would make Niagara Falls a year-round destination and generate a wave of economic development downtown.

Unfortunately, this plan was doomed from the start because of the disgraceful compact agreement that was negotiated on behalf of Niagara Falls, the host community. The opening of the casino brought with it additional costs for us to absorb, such as public safety, sanitation, and infrastructure repair, not to mention the loss of revenue that local restaurants and businesses have experienced or the fact that casino hotel stays are not subject to the traditional bed tax.     

Consider this: A Buffalo News article from earlier this year explains how for every $100 Seneca Niagara Casino generates on slot machines, they send $25 to New York State. The state then sends the city of Niagara Falls $6.25. But wait, the article also explains how the city must share that $6.25 with a number of organizations, which include the Niagara Falls Board of Education, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Destination Niagara USA and, most shockingly, the NFTA.

All of these entities should be paid out of Albany’s share, not the city’s, and with so little money left over it is no wonder that roads are still crumbling, infrastructure is still failing and our police and fire departments remain underfunded. This time around, our fate will likely be the same unless our community has a seat at the negotiating table and a new voice going forward in Albany.

To the casual observer, this new compact negotiation would appear to be simply between the Seneca nation and New York State.  However, I would make the case that it is only fair that the state of New York either step aside and grant cities like Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca the authority to negotiate directly with the Seneca or guarantee ahead of time that all future revenues will be directed to the host communities. Just as other states have done with great success.

Why? Because here in Niagara County we are limited to only one source of gaming revenue, Seneca Niagara Casino, and there is almost no chance of a competing casino ever being opened. New York State can open its own casinos and is able to generate additional gaming revenues from its various lotteries, OTB, sports betting and racetracks.

The Seneca Nation has expressed for many years that what it sends to New York State is far too much. My proposal would reduce the amount of revenue the Seneca share by 30% and increase the amount of money that stays here at home by more than 300%. Furthermore, when that money stays local, we’ll be able to afford those much-needed upgrades throughout our community and more aggressively pursue projects that bring more visitors and dollars to Niagara County year-round.

All New York State needs to do is let it happen.

Doug Mooradian is a candidate for NY State Assembly, 145th District. 

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