<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>

New Casino for Niagara Falls? Don’t Bet on It

By Tony Farina

Will Niagara Falls host a true world class casino, courtesy of Gov. Cuomo?
"The only man who wins in the casino is the guy who owns the place." - Meyer Lansky

Is Gov. Andrew Cuomo really serious about a new, non-Indian casino for downtown Niagara Falls?

That’s one possibility, according to an unidentified official with his administration who leaked that tidbit to the Buffalo News recently, creating a bit of a furor over what’s next for Niagara Falls as the gaming war between the state and the Seneca Nation continues unresolved. The stalemate has left the three Western New York host cities covered by the gaming compact (Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca) without the revenue-sharing funds they were promised in the 2002 deal.

The biggest loser by far in the fight over gaming rights is Niagara Falls, which is down $60 million and counting, a situation that has the city on the financial ropes with no end in sight.

“The City of Niagara Falls better be thought of first,” said Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian in reacting to the news that Cuomo is planning to propose a new casino in downtown Niagara Falls.

Choolokian, the architect of the whittled down Niagara Falls budget that saved taxpayers a big tax increase proposed in Mayor Paul Dyster’s so-called “disaster budget,” said the big question still is “will the state give us the $60 million they owe” for the last three years?

That question, along with many others, remains up in the air in the wake of the governor’s latest curve ball in the gaming war as he previously was on record as saying plans for three new upstate casinos did not include a site in Western New York. Will Niagara Falls now be the fourth upstate casino site or is he using the media to threaten the Senecas that they could face competition in Niagara Falls unless there is a settlement of the ongoing dispute?

And while both sides are under a gag order regarding that ongoing dispute, there’s plenty of anonymous maneuvering about who wants what as part of any final settlement, although there seems to be a possibility that some kind of agreement may be possible. We’ll have to wait and see what an agreement will cost.

This is the year that Cuomo’s plans to expand gaming across the state could become a reality if the legislature goes along a second consecutive year, and votes its approval. The final step would be a referendum before voters in November.

Still in question is the standing of the current gaming compact with the Senecas and it will be Cuomo’s newly-created Gambling Commission which could render a decision, and since he controls the seven-member panel with five appointments, it will likely support his gambling expansion agenda, wherever it is.

Is Cuomo really serious about a casino in Niagara Falls, possibly on land owned by his billionaire friend and chairman of the Thruway Authority, Howard Milstein? Or is the latest wrinkle a sign that the talks to resolve the gaming dispute between the Senecas and the state are going nowhere, and Cuomo is trying to pressure the Senecas to come to a settlement?

And there are recent reports that the Senecas want several concessions from the Cuomo administration before agreeing to any settlement in the current arbitration process, and that reportedly includes development rights for a casino in Rochester and a deal on the more than $500 million it owes to state and host cities under the current compact. In other words, the Senecas want to pay much less than the full amount.

Choolokian is hoping that Niagara Falls will have a seat at the table on any gaming decisions, but don’t bet on it. Cuomo doesn’t have to worry about Mayor Paul Dyster, who has shown a willingness to support the governor no matter what. Maybe Dyster should worry, though, because Cuomo told the editorial board of the Albany Times Union last week that cities looking for state aid to plug budget holes (could that be Niagara Falls?) should consider restructuring, possibly under a control board.
If Dyster thinks he has it tough now dealing with the council, that’s nothing to what he would think if he was under a control board. He would be reduced to a tall coat hanger.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 12 , 2013