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The Common Council and the Seneca Creek Casino Hype

Let Them Know What You Think

Write to the mayor or your councilmember at this address:

CITY HALL
65 Niagara Sq
Buffalo, NY 14202
716-851-4200

Or email them:

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown
bbrown@city-buffalo.com

Michael LoCurto, Delaware District
mlocurto@city-buffalo.com

Brian Davis, Ellicott District
brdavis@city-buffalo.com

David A. Franczyk, Common Council President, Fillmore District
dfranczyk@city-buffalo.com

Richard A. Fontana, Lovejoy District
rfontana@ch.ci.buffalo.ny.us

Antoine M. Thompson, Masten District
athompson@city-buffalo.com

Dominic J. Bonifacio, Jr., Niagara District
dbonifacio@city-buffalo.com

Joseph Golombek, Jr., North District
jgolombek@ch.ci.buffalo.ny.us

Michael Kearns, South District
mkearns@city-buffalo.com

Bonnie E. Russell, President Pro Tempore, University District
brussell@ch.ci.buffalo.ny.us

The four biggest scams being pushed in connection with the casino the Seneca Gaming Corporation would like to build in downtown Buffalo are these:

1. The casino will add 1,000 jobs to the local economy.

2. The casino will draw thousands of tourists to Buffalo.

3. Buffalo’s share of the slot machine drop will add to Buffalo’s economy.

4. It’s a “done deal,” so the only thing Buffalo can do is make the best of it.

#1, #2 and #3 are the substance of the barrage of Seneca Gaming Corporation commercials on all of Buffalo’s commercial television stations this week. None of them is true. The commercials lie.

The casino may very well employ 1,000 workers, but they will come at the cost of far more workers in non-casino enterprises elsewhere in the city. The Seneca Gaming Corporation’s own documents filed with the SEC and statements by former Seneca Nation president Rickey L. Armstrong show that there is no intention or likelihood of drawing tourists to the Buffalo casino; the profits will be pulled from the local economy. And Buffalo’s share of the slot drop won’t be a fraction of what leaves the community in the form of casino losses or what the community spends to deal with the casino’s presence in its midst.

The Seneca Gaming Corporation and the Buffalo News editorial page have long pushed #4: The casino is a “done deal”; the deal was made in Albany; all Buffalo can do is be nice and hope for the best.

That isn’t true either. The mayor and the Common Council have the power to make life so difficult for the casino developers that they will give up and go somewhere else with their slot machines and tax-exempt booze, cigarettes and boutique items. The casino cannot happen without the city providing easements, hookups, traffic accommodations and much more. Buffalo residents and Buffalo’s government were never given a voice in this deal cut in Albany, but that doesn’t mean the city must be a hapless victim.

All of that has been the subject of this series of Artvoice articles. Recently, the news section of the Buffalo News, which the editorial writers seem not to read, published two hard-hitting articles by Phil Fairbanks, one showing that none of the promised post-casino development in Niagara Falls ever took place, another exploring the huge social costs of problem gambling in this region and how they have increased since Casino Niagara opened its doors. And two weeks ago, Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano spoke out against the casino. It was, he said, not development but the opposite of development; it wasn’t an addition to the community’s economy but an attack on it.

Thus far, Mayor Byron Brown seems comfortable walking in his predecessor Tony Masiello’s footsteps: taking the casino operators’ promises on blind faith and asking no difficult questions of anyone.

But what about the Common Council? How, if at all, have the articles in the Artvoice and the Buffalo News informed their views, and how has Tom Golisano’s stand affected their own positions? Do they even read newspapers? Do they care what anyone does or says? Do they simply accept Albany’s order and instructions from the city’s attorneys telling them to stay neutral, or are they deciding on their own what they will say and do? Do they understand and are they willing to use their own power?

We asked them. Here’s what Buffalo’s elected representatives had to say for themselves:

Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. (Majority Leader, Niagara District)

Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. (Majority Leader, Niagara District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

What I’m facing at this point is that the compact is honored between the state and the Department of the Interior. We have to deal with the casino. We can have all the lawsuits that we want in the process. We’ve been advised by our corporation counsel to be legally as neutral as possible on the issue because we don’t want to get into a situation in favor or against—because, if they do get approvals through the compact, then we’re going to have to work with them.

Actually we met this morning with the state delegation discussing some of the questions as far as infrastructure. I, for one, at this point will not support giving the Senecas a dime for infrastructure. That they want to improve the infrastructure around the facility—I feel that it’s their responsibility.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

I think right now the Council is waiting to see what the mayor does on the issue. We don’t have any approvals before the mayor brings it before us. There are issues about…the money that may be falling through the casino instead of to our restaurants and to our entertainment venues that we have in the neighborhood.

Our concern is to try to get the biggest bang for the buck from the Senecas. I personally feel that 6 percent—the 25 percent of 25 percent—is totally inadequate as far as reimbursing the city. We’re going to be plowing the streets around there, providing fire protection, providing police protection—and again, it’s going to be a drain on some of the local businesses downtown…If the Senecas go forward with their casino, we’re looking for a bigger piece of the pie.

I think that part of this money should be used for the businesses downtown as a tax abatement to make it an even playing field between the hotels and restaurants downtown with the Senecas. If we can use some of this money from the Seneca’s casino, the $6 million, and we use that to help supplement the businesses that compete against the Senecas and give them tax-free abatements, then at least everyone’s playing on an equal playing field. But all those are issues that are going to come after the fact. We don’t know at this point.

The Senecas seem to be very serious about moving forward with the compact. They told us “the only way to honor the compact, at this point, is to have slot machines.” And putting slot machines in a trailer or doing something like that is not appropriate. I think my major concern is the casino in general. [That it’s] something we can take pride in…something of a destination point to try to bring tourist dollars in. The Senecas have come out and told us that they’re trying to attract local dollars, and attracting local dollars is taking away from our local economy.

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

I don’t know if it’s influenced me. I’ve heard all of the plusses and negatives about the gaming situation over the last seven or eight years.

Again, I will not use any city dollars to help the Senecas out at this point and we’ll do the best we can if it becomes a reality. How we can use that money for infrastructure in our neighborhoods and also help local businesses to tax breaks.

Are you in favor of or opposed to a tax-exempt casino in downtown Buffalo?

At this point, I would say I’m against the casino, but I have to be very careful stating that. If I am against the casino, I still have to negotiate if they do go forward.

Bonnie E. Russell (President Pro Tempore, University District)

Bonnie E. Russell (President Pro Tempore, University District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

His personal opinion doesn’t influence my position at all.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

Nope. (Laughs.) You’re probably wondering, “Who in the world influences your thinking then,” huh?

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

No. Not influenced, no.

Are you in favor of or opposed to a tax-exempt casino in downtown Buffalo?

At this point, I am steering toward being against the casino altogether. That’s the way my vibes are sending me. The people I listen to and provide me with the most influence are my constituents.

And what vibes are they sending?

That a casino is not best for the City of Buffalo. And I try to look at the whole city picture, too. I listen to Golisano, of course, and read the paper and listen to everybody’s opinions, but the one that struck me the most, if any one was to influence me, was the article they did a couple of days ago in the Buffalo News when they interviewed the judges. That was a very well written article, as far as…how it affects people and how the casino can affect the bottom line. My husband is a judge, of course. You see the other side of it and it’s really worrying me.

The casino is probably going to come whether or not we support it. But I’ll tell you one thing—infrastructure and all that stuff—they won’t get a dime out of me. That’s for sure. So whether it comes or not—I think it’s going to come regardless because they have that land—but I’m not going to do anything on this Council to give them any money for anything.

David A. Franczyk (Council President, Fillmore District)

David A. Franczyk (Council President, Fillmore District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

Probably not at all, but I do take it into some consideration since he’s a big downtown powerhouse guy. It had somewhat of an effect. It doesn’t change my mind in one way or another, but it all adds into the mix.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

I think these things create a momentum against the casino, which does have an impact.

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

Very well researched, but I haven’t read most of them. So probably not at all. Although I think it adds to the mix, too, because people who read it may form an opinion, [people] who have influence on politicians.

Are you in favor of or opposed to a tax-exempt casino in downtown Buffalo?

Well, it is tax-exempt. Are you asking me if I’m in favor of the Seneca casino proposal?

Yes.

Let me just say this. I think that the casino is not the great disaster that people say it’s going to be. Nor is it the great benefit they say it’s going to be. It is what it is. So, if there’s going to be a casino, I want to make sure it’s an asset more than a liability. What my conditions are for a casino is that New York State gives us a greater stream of revenue from the slots…Six percent of the total cake—I don’t think that’s enough. Number two, I don’t think we should pay for the infrastructure that they’re asking for. Ideally the Senecas should pay for it and Buffalo should be the 100 percent host community and not share it with any adjacent communities.

And there should be programs like gambling counseling. You’re not going to stop people from gambling, obviously. Tens of thousands of people are enthralled with that form of entertainment and flock there in multitudes. So they’re going to find a way to do it no matter what. Therefore, there should at least be some safety measures regarding counseling. Programs of that nature should be in place. There should be a revenue stream to pay for that as well. And at least 50 percent of the jobs should come from Buffalo residents if it happens. Those are conditions [under which] I would support it.

Would if be fair to say that you are neutral on the subject?

No, I’m not neutral. I’m in favor of it only under certain circumstances. And I don’t think it’s either the great savior or the great destroyer. I think both extremes would not come true. I never thought it was for tourists, anyway. I wouldn’t believe that for a minute. I’m endlessly fascinated for people’s craving for that form of entertainment but I can’t dictate the people’s taste. So if they’re going to have it, the city should get some benefit out of it, i.e. revenue.

Michael LoCurto (Delaware District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

I’ve never thought that it was that great of a proposal. I think it’s good that there’s somebody out there, that big, stating what I kind of thought all along. I just think it’s a net loss for the city.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

I think those were good articles, because they presented both sides of the argument well. It talked about some of the benefits that have happened since the casino but also the negative aspects.

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

Probably the most, because he’s been doing it since the whole thing got started.

Are you in favor of or opposed to a tax-exempt casino in downtown Buffalo?

I’m opposed.

Brian Davis (Ellicott District)

Brian Davis (Ellicott District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

Tom’s personal decisions haven’t influenced my decision in one way or another. The decision that I make as a responsible elected official is going to be based on the information that I receive from several sources, and of course that will be the administration of the City of Buffalo. But, in addition to reviewing the filings of the Senecas, as well as paying close attention to the compact itself—you know I read that thing about 20 times and I got 20 different thoughts every time I read it.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

It hasn’t influenced my decision. I haven’t received all the information that I’m looking for. And again, once I get that information, then I’m going to make a responsible decision. And just for the record, I am a Catholic and I’ve met with our former bishop, Bishop Mansell, in regards to the casino…and I still gave him that same response. I’m being very consistent in my position.

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

Actually, I apologize. I haven’t caught Bruce Jackson’s articles.

Are you in favor of or opposed to a tax-exempt casino in downtown Buffalo?

Again, let me say this—whether tax exempt or non-tax-exempt, my position has been that I am more interested…in seeing what the five-year, five-mile-radius plan is for the casino.

Would it be fair to say that you don’t have a specific opinion on the casino?

Right. To me, my support or lack thereof is going to be, again, the five-year plan. What is this casino going to do for the City of Buffalo? And the five-mile radius, meaning that you have to prepare projects and conditions in downtown Buffalo that surround the casino. I’d hate to see this casino become the Boardwalk of New Jersey.

When you talk about the five-year plan, are you talking about after the casino is constructed?

Yes. What would that five-year plan be? In other words, how will the City of Buffalo leverage its resources to try to improve the conditions around the casino? Are we going to put together a very serious marketing plan to encourage development around the casino? Are we going to revamp the infrastructure? Are we going to improve the housing structures? I’m more interested in that. To me, it’s going to be a package deal.

Could anything change your mind so that you’re opposed to the casino?

Of course. The lack of—like everything I’ve already stated—there’s no plan for the future of the community around the casino; that this casino is going to come and suck the breath out of the little bit of life we have around that area; that I’m going to have some compelling information that is going to say that it is not going to attract any additional folks into this region; [that] it’s going to hamper the development that I’ve been working on for the last four years on Michigan Avenue and trying to ensure that it’s our cultural, historic thoroughfare.

Richard A. Fontana (Lovejoy District)

Richard A. Fontana (Lovejoy District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

It makes you stop and think. Mr. Golisano knows business inside and out probably better than anyone else in Western New York, I bet you. It does raise some concern if he’s bringing this up. It’s a concern that makes us look at the issue a little closer.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

First of all, the Council has not voted on one piece of legislation or item that deals with the casino at all. It’s all been state level, gubernatorial politics foisted upon the city, to be honest with you.

I know the mayor was asking for a casino, the former mayor. If you’re asking if I went and lobbied for the casino in the first place I’d say the answer is no. I always felt the Falls should have one, but we’re under the impression that the city’s getting one, as part of the compact, so we’re trying to make the best deal possible for the city and that the taxpayers don’t have a burden. As far as Phil’s articles go, I thought Phil did an excellent job. It brings out points as to what the casino’s bringing. It brings jobs but it also brings problems.

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

I’ve really only read a couple. Once again, they bring up the aspects of a casino that are not the good aspects of any casino, to be honest with you.

If I talk to [people] about the negative aspects of a casino, they say, “They’re already here. The racetracks are over at Fort Erie.” This one will probably be much closer, though. You probably wouldn’t even need a car to get there, using mass transportation around the City of Buffalo.

Are you in favor of or opposed to a tax-exempt casino in downtown Buffalo?

At this point, I’m in favor of the city getting the best deal possible. I’d rather see a state-run casino where the state and the city can share a much larger portion. Currently, 75 percent of the take goes right over to the Seneca Nation of Indians. I’d rather see a much differently structured casino, but we’re really dealing with the cards that are in front of us.

Could anything change your mind on this issue?

I could oppose it all I want. I didn’t make the deal. You’re kind of opposing something you didn’t do in the first place. I wish that the Council and the mayor would have gotten together with the state and passed a municipal casino in the city, but that didn’t happen.

I think any infrastructure money should come directly from the Senecas or come from the project itself, not the taxpayers of the City of Buffalo, so I won’t be supporting a capital amendment item that’s paid for by the taxpayers.

Antoine M. Thompson (Masten District)

Antoine M. Thompson

(Masten District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

I think he has brought additional credibility to the concerns that many people have felt for some time in terms of the potential impact of the casino on local businesses.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

I haven’t read all of his articles. I did read the Sunday article, and I think it brought up a number of relevant things that people should be concerned about.

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

He’s definitely had a lot of influence. I believe there should have been a referendum on the issue, to be honest with you. It’s a state-imposed casino.

Are you in favor of or opposed to a tax-exempt casino in downtown Buffalo?

I’m not for it being tax-exempt. No, I’m not for a tax-exempt casino. I think the casino ought to be paying something. Period. Let me just say two things. Number one, I haven’t met with the Senacas yet. There was a meeting today and I was at a funeral.

I believe, though, at the end of the day, more must be done to make sure that the city that is the host community receives more resources. I believe there should have been a referendum. We have a state-imposed control board. We have a state-imposed casino. And now Buffalo, as always, is put in a situation where we got to sort through other things.

Joseph Golombek Jr. (North District)

Joseph Golombek Jr.

(North District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

To be quite honest with you, it hasn’t had any impact on my position whatsoever.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

Same thing.

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

No. Just so that you know, I haven’t been a big proponent of the casino since day one and I have probably been, on the Council at least, the person who has asked the most questions about the entire deal, pretty much from day one.

A lot of these problems that we have right now that have come to light have really happened because, about two months ago, there was an easement [request] that was given to the city from the Senecas for Fulton Street for downtown Buffalo. It came in front of the community development committee, which I am chair of, and the Senecas wanted it approved immediately. My colleagues were going to do that, and I said, “No, no, no, we’ve got more questions on this issue.” I lobbied among all of them to basically say, “Look, this is the only thing that we have that we can hold over the Senecas right now. Once we give this up, we have nothing that we can hold over them.”

I think, indirectly, all of this blowing up right now is basically because we threw that into the community development committee and refused to approve it when the Senecas asked two months ago.

So I think that I’m generally supportive of everything that Bruce Jackson and Golisano are stating. It’s not a great deal for the City of Buffalo.

Michael Kearns (South District)

Michael Kearns (South District)

Have Tom Golisano’s statements about the proposed Buffalo Creek Casino influenced your thinking on the matter?

They really haven’t influenced me too much. I’ve been researching this issue myself. It is important that he has a stake in this issue as the owner of the Sabres. He’s going to be adjacent to the new casino, if there is a casino. But really, I’m making my own decisions and I’m doing my own research on it.

Have Phil Fairbanks’ articles in Sunday’s and Monday’s Buffalo News influenced your thinking on the matter?

Once again, I think they were good, well-written articles. You hear a lot of good things, but now what are the consequences for the City of Buffalo? I thought it was a good article. I thought the people involved made good, positive statements, giving the people information. Information is important so people can make a determination on not only the good points of what a casino would bring but also the consequences of gambling.

Have Bruce Jackson’s articles in Artvoice influenced your thinking on the matter?

I think he has done a great job; he’s done unbelievable research on this matter. As a politician, as a government official, it always helps to have the news lend an independent voice to a matter.

I’ve only started [on the Council] in January and I’m learning a lot about the pros and cons and what they want and what’s happening. There are health issues, there are City of Buffalo obligations, there’s federal law, there are social costs. I think Artvoice has done an excellent job of bringing all those issues forward.

Are you in favor of or opposed to a tax-exempt casino in downtown Buffalo?

I feel like we need to have more discussion on this matter. I was critical today because I think at some point in time that the leaders of the city have to make a determination. Are you pro-casino gambling or are you against casino gambling? I’m leaning towards being against casino gambling. But I want to shape my opinion after listening to many of the residents and the people.

I don’t think it’s going to be good for the City of Buffalo. I don’t support us giving them Fulton Street. I know that’s coming before the Common Council. They really haven’t dealt with the Council at all. We had a meeting last week, and they want to deal with the councilmembers on an individual basis, and I think this should be an open process.

And I don’t think we’ve heard from the residents at all. One of the things I am against is preying on poor people. These are people who are going to have access to a casino and I think there’s a big difference when you have access as close as it’s going to be in a poor neighborhood. There are other questions. There are a lot of health issues, there are a lot of environmental issues, there are things that are going to affect the city of Buffalo with underground facilities like sewer and water. Here’s a question: Once they’re a sovereign nation, who owns underneath the building? Is it the City of Buffalo’s? I mean, there are so many questions.

[He called back the next day to add this:]

I’m chairman of the waterfront development committee and my concern is that we haven’t discussed the effect of the casino on the waterfront development. There are other plans that are being brought before us. We’re studying that, but we’re not planning how the casino will affect waterfront development. Also, I was a small businessman. I was actually a vice president of a company before I got into politics, so I understand the plight of a small businessman. I wouldn’t want to see a casino take revenue away from our businesses or steal business from them.