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Monday, April 17, 2006

Seneca plan for casino aims locally

SEC filing contrasts "world class' billing

News Staff Reporter
Original Article

The Seneca Gaming Corp. confirms in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its emerging Buffalo casino will cater primarily to Buffalo and its suburbs, raising worries that it will drain assets already here without pulling significant outside dollars into the local economy.

The disclosure kicked up these events Saturday:

After conferring with Mayor Byron W. Brown, City Hall's development commissioner called the news "very troubling" and said it "speaks strongly" against the city providing $6 million in water, sewer and road improvements the Senecas want for the casino.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra urged the County Legislature to join him in filing a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of the forces trying to block the casino in state and federal courts.

An Assembly Democrat said he would write to the U.S. Department of the Interior to say the public rhetoric from the Seneca Gaming Corp. had not jibed with their less-visible filings with government regulators.

A Seneca corporation spokesman responded that the Buffalo casino, to be built near the Cobblestone District, will significantly benefit Buffalo.

"We believe that Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino will provide tangible economic benefits to the community, most notably in the share of slot revenues," responded Seneca Gaming spokesman Phil Pantano. "It is a $125 million investment in an area that hasn't seen that kind of investment in some time, if ever."

Meanwhile, he said the casino could retake some of the $60 million to $80 million a year that leaves the Buffalo area to be wagered at the Fort Erie race track.

"We would certainly like to capture as much of that as possible and support local jobs," Pantano said.

The Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino's 1,900 to 2,200 slot machines, 30 to 50 gaming tables, plus its restaurants and stores are expected to "cater primarily to the local market," the corporation said in a February filing with the SEC, explaining that Buffalo Creek would "complement" Seneca Nation's casino to the north, Seneca Niagara, and its casino to the south, Seneca Allegany.

That disclosure, not the first of its kind from Seneca Gaming, provides fodder for Buffalo's anti-casino forces. While the corporation's SEC filings have been frank, its officials have publicly spoken in grander terms, saying they want to build a "signature destination" and a "world-class" facility in Buffalo.

"The public pronouncements in the press releases differ greatly from the written pronouncements in the official Securities and Exchange documents," Giambra said. "It appears that we might have a situation of fraud here."

He has said the casino ought to be a resort-style, tourist destination, not a downtown development, and he wants lawmakers to join him in filing an amicus curiae brief on behalf of anti-casino forces, or join their lawsuits.

Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda, without knowing the wishes of the full Legislature on Saturday, said a court brief could be signed by those legislators who agree with the statement, regardless of whether they form a Legislature majority.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, longtime critic of a Buffalo casino, plans to write the Interior Department about the inconsistency. "The official documents submitted to regulators say one thing," the Buffalo Democrat said. "The public rhetoric and the sales pitch to people who have a decision-making role in granting them a license, were something entirely different.

"I have said for years this is going to be just picking our own pockets. I am anti-casino, not for religious or moral reasons but for economic reasons."

The Senecas' recent disclosure raised serious issues within the city, which would gain a share of casino revenue and a projected 1,000 permanent casino jobs, not to mention construction jobs. "The primary economic justification for a casino in Buffalo has been that more tourist dollars will come to and stay here than will leave the host community," said Richard M. Tobe, the city's commissioner of development, permits and inspections.

He said information in the SEC document "raises the strong possibility that the Buffalo Creek Casino will have negative impacts on our local economy" and "speaks strongly against the city providing any support for the infrastructure improvements requested by the Seneca Nation around the Buffalo Creek Casino site."

Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. in March requested that the city provide $6 million in road, sewer, water and traffic signal improvements. Pantano did not respond specifically to Tobe's statement Saturday.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com


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