Niagara Gazette

Local News

November 21, 2012

GOP caucus backs casino gaming expansion

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — The county Legislature is signaling conditional support for casino gaming expansion in New York, specifically at Batavia Downs.

On a 10-2 vote Tuesday, lawmakers OK'd a resolution encouraging state leaders to authorize full-blown casino gaming at nine "racinos" statewide. Members of the Republican-led majority caucus provided all the yes votes.

Racinos are horse race betting houses where the state also has allowed video lottery terminals to be operated. Batavia Downs, an enterprise of Western Region Off Track Betting, is one such place.

Democratic lawmakers Dennis Virtuoso and Jason Zona, both from Niagara Falls, voted against the resolution. Virtuoso voiced concerns the resolution would antagonize the Seneca Nation, which has withheld profit shares from the City of Niagara Falls the past three years while arguing with the state about whether the racinos violate the Senecas' "exclusive" gaming rights given the nation in its compact with the state to operate casinos. Presently casinos are not elsewise permitted in New York.

Michael Nolan, vice president and chief operating officer of Western Region OTB, says Batavia Downs is a moneymaker for the county, which is a partial owner of WROTB. Niagara's share of OTB profits is averaging $240,000 a year currently, he said.

In the event casino gaming — basically live table games, cards and dice — was introduced at Batavia Downs, Nolan said OTB projects a 40 to 60 percent increase in revenues, which translates to 40 to 60 percent higher profit shares for the 15 counties and two cities that own OTB.

That higher profit share would still be underwhelming compared to what the Seneca Nation shares with Niagara Falls, Virtuoso countered.

Between the amounts going to Niagara Falls School District and the city, Seneca profit sharing is worth nearly $20 million a year, "when they pay it," he said.

The county is benefiting from that arrangement, Virtuoso added, considering that the City of Niagara Falls must give $1 million a year apiece from its profit share to Niagara Falls International Airport and Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation, the countywide tourism promotion agency.

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