Could U.S. Gaming Hurt Niagara Tourism?

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Niagara Falls is one of the most famous tourism destinations in North America, and is unique in its situation straddling the U.S.-Canadian border. There’s some chance however that changes in gaming legislation on the U.S. side could begin to negatively affect tourism in the area in the years to come.

In September of last year, Niagara Falls Tourism chairman Wayne Thomson made some public comments about the state of the industry, noting that some major businesses in the area were up as much as 10 percent in revenue on the year (after similar gains the year before). In the past these kinds of upticks have been explained by things like favorable exchange rates or even specific events, such as last year’s live show with Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest at the Oakes Garden Theatre. More generally though, Thomson pointed to some enduring attractions in the city as reasons for increasing tourism. Specifically, he said the convention centre, casinos, and WEGO transportation system have transformed the city into a year-round destination.

In other words, while it doesn’t all come down to casino activity, the casinos in and around Niagara have certainly had a sustained impact on tourism. This makes particular sense when we consider that real money gaming activity is largely outlawed throughout the U.S., and Niagara Falls represents one of the closest gambling opportunities for people in the northeastern United States.

That said, the gambling landscape in the United States may be poised to change in the near future. Already U.S. citizens over 18 are free to play real money games as long as the operator has obtained a registered license from the Gambling Commission. Meanwhile, more and more states are seeking to enact legislation that would lead to more such licenses and open up real money gaming (as well as sports betting) within their borders. As of now only a small handful of states allow for casino activity, but many believe this won’t be the case for much longer.

Needless to say if more states in the Northeast were to legalize casino activity, the casino aspect of Niagara Falls tourism would become less alluring. But it’s not as if legal casinos in states near the border would necessarily make for a huge disruption. For one thing, people find plenty of things to do in Niagara Falls besides gaming and gambling. The waterfalls are the main attraction and numerous ways of exploring the surrounding area and relaxing nearby are also tourism draws; in many travelers’ minds, casinos are actually pretty far down the list. Additionally, because the falls straddle the border, we may also simply see the emergence of a casino or two on the U.S. side. People like to visit these establishments in the midst of vacations to beautiful places (examples including the Bahamas, Monte Carlo, Singapore, etc.), and the prime real estate would certainly appeal to major developers.

All in all it’s certainly possible that legalized U.S. gaming could hurt tourism to Niagara Falls, at least in the short term. But as explained above, there’s also reason to believe it wouldn’t be a devastating change – and in the long term, it could even provide a boost.

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