The Seneca Nation of Indians have long eyed a casino in Rochester and may be using it has a bargaining chip as they seek resolution with the state over more than $500 million in unpaid fees.
Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards said Thursday he has no conversations with the newest Seneca President Barry Snyder on the tribe’s potential plans for a city casino. Richards said he opposes a casino in downtown Rochester, but would be open to discussions with Monroe County leaders about another location either in the city or county.
“I don’t want it in the center of town. When you put a casino somewhere, you change the whole dynamic of that place. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s what you want. I don’t think we want that downtown,” Richards said. “We are well on our way to redoing downtown and it’s going to be a different kind of place, and not a place dominated by a casino. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some place where it could be acceptable.”
Private developers and Indian tribes have sought a casino in Rochester. Buffalo has a Seneca casino, and the Turning Stone Casino, run by the Oneidas, is near Syracuse.
A plan in 2004 for an out-of-state tribe to operate Rochester casino with mall magnate Thomas Wilmot was scuttled by local officials. The Senecas own the exclusive gaming rights in western New York as part of a 2002 pact with the state.
But the state and tribe have been at odds over payments the tribe was supposed to make from its three western New York casinos, saying the three racinos in the region violates the gambling pact.
The Buffalo News reported today that the Senecas want a Rochester casino in exchange for paying the state up to $572 million they owe, as well as other concessions from the state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo office declined comment, citing ongoing arbitration with the tribe. The Senecas did not return calls seeking comment.
Richards said he’s told the tribe in the past that they need to work out their disagreements with the state before they start pitching a Rochester casino.
On a regional economic development tour today, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy told business and government leaders that there are not immediate plans for any casino in the region, Richards said. Cuomo has laid out plans for a competitive bidding process for up to three, privately owned upstate casinos.
“He sort of calmed people down and said, “Hey, look, there has been no deal for somebody to put a casino anyplace. It wouldn’t go anywhere that the local community doesn’t want it and much more to come,” Richards said of Duffy, the former Rochester mayor.
Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, said he would open to a Rochester casino. He said he talked yesterday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo generally about the bidding process, but the Senecas’ pitch didn’t come up.
“To me, I think there would be a lot of optional sites that would be good, would add to our tourism package and enhance the economy.”
Later, speaking to reporters, Duffy said Cuomo has made no decision about which cities would be right for a casino if a referendum passes in November to allow up to seven casinos in New York. He said the community has to want it but added that the location has to be a “destination” place.
Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks said she’s not opposed to the idea but that a community discussion will have to be held even after a referendum. She said other sites in the county might work if the city is opposed. She said any decision about this is a long way off.