In the competition between regional casinos for gamblers’ loyalty, the Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ontario is pondering whether to match and raise, while the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel is looking ahead to its next bet.

The stakes are ever-growing entertainment and meeting venues, spaces the casinos use to lure big-name entertainment and larger conferences to their sprawling campuses and then, hopefully, get a good number of them to the tables and slot machines.

A play by either side could also impact concert and conference bookings in the Niagara region, giving both sides an opportunity to try and entice out-of-town visitors into their communities.

Fallsview management has said recently it is looking into the feasibility of expanding the casino’s existing 1,500-seat Avalon Ballroom into a 5,000-seat entertainment complex, possibly built on top of the existing “bull’s ring” of gaming space.

On the U.S. side, the Seneca Niagara Casino is also contemplating whether its next expansion will include enhancements to its current 2,200-seat Seneca Events Center.

"We are completing a revised master plan, different from one ... that has been displayed publicly,” said Phil Pantano, spokesman for the Seneca Gaming Corp., which runs casino operations for the Seneca Nation of Indians. “As it stands now, we are definitely thinking of enhancing entertainment space.”

Greg Medulun, director of communications for Niagara Casinos, which operates both the Casino Niagara and Fallsview facilities, said the expansion of Fallsview’s entertainment space was “in the very early stages,” and that a commissioned study on the feasibility of the project would not be complete until fall.

Newspapers including the Niagara Falls Review have noted, however, that Fallsview’s president, Art Frank, was chief executive at Casino Rama when that casino added a $225 million, 5,000-seat entertainment center and hotel in 2001.

Looking strictly at the numbers, it doesn’t make immediate sense why either casino would be so keen on expanding entertainment space.

During the three-month quarter ending March 31, the Seneca Gaming Corp. reported revenues of $4.35 million, down from $4.85 million during the same period in 2006. The Gaming Corp. states that the drop is primarily due to a drop in retail sales, but nearly 85 percent of those sales are redemptions by frequent players.

What big names and big concert halls really do, according to the casinos and their reports, is attract a larger, wider and often higher-end contingent of people to the casino and give them reason to stay for more than a few quick lever pulls.

Both casinos have reportedly sold out each of their shows since the beginning of the year, with 50 percent or more of the tickets discounted or given away with hotel and other discounts to regular customers.

“The entertainment centers serve an important role in this business,” Medulun said. “For attracting customers, for giving them other reasons to come to the building ... it’s another avenue to attract volume to the facility.”

How much of that volume finds its way into nearby businesses remains an estimate, at best. Allison Appoloney, general manager at the Hard Rock Cafe on Niagara Falls’ Prospect Street, said she sees an “incremental traffic boost” when big-name acts are headlining at Seneca Niagara, but said she would have to see whether a bigger venue would mean more customers or just more traffic.

“If people start opting for an overnight stay, making this a destination for the weekend ... I could see it helping a bit more,” Appoloney said.

Music promoter and Molson Canal Concert Series organizer Kathy Paradowski said a mid-sized venue of about 5,000 seats is “badly needed” in the Niagara region. Many popular bands and acts skip over Buffalo, she said, because of the wide gap between a site like HSBC Arena, with a capacity of 18,600, and the much smaller clubs and theaters around Western New York.

“Outside of Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and U2 ... there are a lot of acts that don’t have to sell out HSBC to play here,” Paradowski said. “A nice, good venue, with good lights and sound, is absolutely welcome.”

But Paradowski noted that both casinos tend to book and promote their concerts in-house, so the arrival of a bigger concert hall would be a “mixed blessing” for local agents and promoters.

Both casinos currently book conferences and seminars for their multi-use events spaces, but John Percy, head of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Center, doesn’t see the casinos as competition for the Conference Center — it could actually help local tourism, he said.

“If shows put a lot of people into the downtown corridor ... if they truly pull in people for a whole day or more, people will hopefully take in something outside the casino while they’re here,” Percy said. “Even if a big act is across the border, it broadens our appeal, and it forces everybody to notice that something’s going on here.”