The resolution was drafted with the help of Sam Magavern, Co-Director of the Partnership for the Public Good, a Buffalo progressive public-policy organization. The Partnership for the Public Good has been conducting research on the effects of casino gambling in Buffalo since the opening of the "temporary" casino by Seneca Gaming. Last year, it adopted opposition to casino gambling as one of its policy "planks" for 2012, and has been working with CACGEC and Citizens for a Better Buffalo (the entity funding the anti-casino lawsuit) on the public policy implications of casino gambling in Buffalo.
A reading of the resolution, below, makes clear that, if passed, it might be a step toward the eventual closure of the casino.
Despite the casino having been declared illegal by Judge Skretny, Seneca Gaming this summer broke ground on a revised, permanent casino at the edge of the Cobblestone District. The design has been roundly panned, and seems most notable for its smorgasbord of parking options. The quality of the revised plans, and their failure to meet the commitments originally made by the Senecas to the City of Buffalo, are among issues highlighted in the resolution. Another involves money, as the Senecas continue to withhold millions of dollars in promised casino revenue share from the cities of Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Salamanca in a dispute with New York State.
The Community Development Committee will meet this Tuesday, September 25, at 1:00 PM, in Council Chambers, to take up the resolution. The members of the committee are Michael J. LoCurto, Joseph Golombek, Jr. (Chair), Darius G. Pridgen, David A. Rivera, and Bonnie E. Russell.
The public is, of course, allowed to attend the committee meeting, and individuals will have the opportunity to speak. Anyone unable to do so can contact members of the committee directly to weigh in with their views.
If you have been following the Buffalo casino saga from the beginning, you know that, in order to develop the site, Seneca Gaming had to secure the closure of Fulton Street by the City of Buffalo. It was by no means a simple deal, with negotiations breaking down with the city administration, and a contentious vote by Common Council. To secure passage, the Senecas made a number of commitments -- most of which they have not kept, as the resolution below details. This isn't the first time the question of the Senecas' performance under the agreement has been raised by Common Council -- In early 2011, they grilled the City attorney for specifics on whether the Senecas were upholding their end of the deal.
Well over a year later, it at least one member of Council seems to feel it's about time for Seneca Gaming to either show its cards or cash in its chips and leave the table.
By: Michael J. LoCurto
Re: Contract Between the Seneca Gaming Corporation and the City of Buffalo
Whereas, in 2006 the City of Buffalo made a contract with the Seneca Erie Gaming Corporation, Seneca Gaming Corporation, and Seneca Nation enabling the building of the Buffalo Creek Casino, and
Whereas, the City provided land, water and sewer services, and other consideration, and in return the Corporation made a series of commitments regarding the casino's design and amenities, marketing to tourists, and hiring of local and minority residents, and
Whereas, the Corporation promised to build "a casino and parking ramp substantially in accordance with the design that was publicly unveiled on or about June 1, 2006," and
Whereas, the Corporation promised that the complex would resemble the drawings it provided, which showed extensive plantings of trees and vegetation, a pond, a creek and no surface parking lots, and
Whereas, the Corporation recently unveiled a completely different design with minimal landscaping, no pond or creek, a much smaller parking ramp, and enormous surface parking lots, and
Whereas, the Corporation promised a type of facility and coordinated marketing efforts that attract tourists from out of town and bring them to other Buffalo attractions beyond the casino, and
Whereas, the Corporation promised to work with the Convention and Visitor's Bureau to "coordinate marketing of the City as a tourist destination in its own right" and to spend more than $1.7 million per year marketing the casino outside the region as a "package with other attractions in the City," but there is no evidence that any such marketing has taken place, and
Whereas, the Corporation promised to provide the City with a certificate of compliance each year confirming its compliance with its marketing commitments and to have a marketing executive from the Corporation make an annual report on marketing to the City of Buffalo Common Council, but the Corporation has not provided those certificates or made those presentations in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, or 2011, and
Whereas, the Corporation declared its intention was to employ 1,000 people at the complex, with a preference for hiring City residents, of whom 25% would be minorities, but the Corporation has only hires a fraction of that number, and
Whereas, the Corporation promised to work with 12 listed agencies to increase jobs and opportunities for minorities and women, but there is no evidence that such work has taken place, and
Whereas, the Corporation promised make annual reports to the City on its hiring, including the total number of people hired and the numbers of minorities and women hired, but the Corporation did not make annual reports on hiring in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, or 2011 and
Whereas, the Corporation promised to make 11 infrastructure improvements costing between $5 million and $7 million, within six months of opening the casino, and
Whereas, the Corporation has been running a highly profitable casino on the site since July 3, 2007 in a large, windowless, metal shed that is clearly not attracting tourists or providing large numbers of jobs (it is estimated, for example, that the casino yielded roughly $36 million in slots revenue in 2009 alone), and
Whereas, because of its disputes with New York State, the Corporation has ceased making exclusivity payments of 25% of slots revenue to New York, so that the City of Buffalo is no longer receiving its share of exclusivity payments, and the Corporation does not pay sales or property taxes on its operations, and
Whereas, the Corporation has been unjustly enriched with millions of dollars by operating a casino in violation of the terms of its contract with the City, and in detriment to the citizens of the City, and
Whereas, it has become increasingly clear that a casino in downtown Buffalo that serves as a major tourist destination is not feasible, and that the Corporation does not intend to create such a casino, and
Whereas, extensive national and local research has proven that casinos, particularly urban "convenience" casinos that do not draw large numbers of tourists, create more harms than benefits to their host communities by taking away jobs from other businesses and by exacerbating poverty, crime, and other social problems, and
Whereas, there is no evidence of "spillover" benefit to surrounding businesses or residents from the casino in Buffalo, just as there is none from the casino in Niagara Falls - both of which are surrounded by blight, and
Whereas, a federal judge has twice ruled that casino gambling at the Buffalo site is illegal, and the matter is currently being litigated for a third time, and
Whereas, the Corporation has breached its contract with the City in numerous ways, including those listed above.
Now, Therefore be it Resolved:
That the Common Council requests that the City's Law Department initiate steps to rescind the contract, to reclaim the City land that was transferred, to cease providing water and sewer service to the site, and to be made whole for all the damages and costs that the City has sustained and for the unjust enrichment that the Corporation has obtained.
Michael J. LoCurto
Delaware District Council Member