Potential Rochester-area casino prompts concerns

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Rochester Mayor Malik Evans calls all this talk about a downtown casino “chatter.”

“It should be noted,” Mayor Evans said in a statement, “that neither City leadership nor members of our New York State delegation has been involved in any conversations related to this possibility. Any conversation of this magnitude that does not include local stakeholders is unacceptable.”

This started when Politico reported the framework of a new 20-year contract between the Seneca Nation and New York State includes a casino in Rochester or the surrounding area.

Monday, a letter signed by every member of the Rochester City Council asked the governor to halt talks on a casino in Rochester.

“In my mind, our challenge and our question is this: as a community, do we want to give away part of our city forever?” asked councilmember Michael Patterson.
If the Seneca Nation got a casino in Rochester, the property would be Seneca Nation land. The Rochester Police Department would not be allowed in and the Senecas would be allowed to sell marijuana on day one.

“If they decide to give away part of our city, they aren’t bound by our laws,” Patterson said. “It’s literally like they become Switzerland in the middle of Rochester.”

Late last week, the state legislature was asked to pre-authorize the framework deal between the Senecas and New York and let the negotiators hammer out details over the summer and fall.

The state senate passed it 60-3.

Sen. Jeremy Cooney one of the ‘no’ votes.

“What the terms are, how that may or may not involve Rochester, is still unknown,” Sen. Cooney said. “But what the legislation was going to do was allow a pre-authorization.”

The other state senator who represents Rochester and its eastern towns is Samra Brouk. She voted against it, as well.

On Monday, she issued this statement: “Like many Rochester residents, I was surprised to learn that a potential casino may be constructed in the Greater Rochester area. I have heard from constituents over the last two days, concerned that a casino is not what our community needs, and that too little is known about this proposal for it to move forward. Decisions like this cannot be made lightly, and the members of our community who have the most to lose from a proposal like this deserve to have their voices heard.”

The current compact between the Senecas and New York State expires in December.

Last week, Seneca President Ricky Armstrong said the Nation has “…a fair deal that secured the future of our gaming operations… and the significant jobs and economic benefits they generate in Western New York.”

The preliminary deal is not public.

Three locations always come up for big development in downtown: Parcel 5 on East Main Street, the former Rochester Riverside Hotel – the largest in Western New York – and the open property along the Genesee River in between the Blue Cross Arena and the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge.

When Politico reported on a possible Rochester casino or a location outside the city, Assemblyman Harry Bronson says he called the governor’s office and was told there is a non-disclosure agreement.

He says he then he called the Assembly speaker and they paused the vote.

Before they go back to vote on this, which is probably next week, Bronson says they want to clear up concern about location, whether there’s enough gaming already and concerns over non-union jobs at a Seneca-run casino.