Mayor Evans: City leaders haven’t been included in conversations about possibility of casino

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Mayor Malik Evans said city leaders haven’t been included in conversations about the possibility of a casino coming to Rochester.

New York State lawmakers are working with the Seneca Nation to negotiate a new gaming compact, the deal that allows the nation to operate its three upstate casinos. The new compact could allow the state to issue a casino license for Rochester as well.

Evans said the talks of a casino in Rochester should have included local stakeholders. Here is his full statement:

“We have heard lots of chatter about the possibility of a casino license being granted in the Rochester area. It should be noted 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. There are already numerous casinos in the Rochester area. My focus remains on meaningful opportunities that create a vibrant Rochester economy focused on the jobs of the 21st century.”

The Seneca Nation first signed a gaming compact with the state 21 years ago but that compact is expiring in December 2023. However, the State Senate approved a measure that would allow Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign a new deal. The State Assembly has not yet voted.

Senator Jeremy Cooney voted against the new gaming compact because of concerns about the lack of opportunity for the public to comment. Here is his statement:

“As a state senator, I did not feel comfortable voting in favor of legislation that removes state lawmakers from their oversight responsibilities and limits input from the public. I voted no. Before a state compact is made with the Seneca Nation, I believe there needs to be an opportunity for public comment and demonstrated partnership with local governments, including the City of Rochester.”

Robert Duffy, Greater Rochester’s Chamber of Commerce CEO and former Rochester mayor, announced that he’s in favor of signing the compact between New York State and the Seneca Nation.

However, when it comes to a potential casino in Rochester, “we defer to the judgment and decisions of local and state officials, as well as the Seneca Nation leadership,” he said in a statement.

His statement continues: “It is worth acknowledging that the establishment of a casino can potentially create job opportunities, which can have a positive impact on the local economy. If the casino is situated near the convention center, it may potentially serve as a boost for hosting conventions in the area.

As the former mayor, I had the opportunity to host the Seneca Nation leaders in Rochester, during which we even toured a location on Andrews St. At that time, the Seneca Nation decided against pursuing that particular location. By working collaboratively with local and state officials, as well as engaging with the Seneca Nation leadership, we can ensure that any decisions made regarding the casino align with the best interests of Rochester.

Currently, the Seneca Nation operates the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel on the Niagara Falls Territory in Niagara Falls, the Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca, and the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo. Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart said she would be opposed to a casino in Rochester.

She submitted a letter to the county legislature on Sunday saying that casinos do not create new wealth, employment, or tourism.

The letter reads: “A casino would cannibalize existing dollars spent in our community. Casinos have a long track record in other communities of hurting retail sales, serving as a drain on the local economy. Tax revenue from casinos is not new money because these are dollars that would be spent in other ways. Since there are so many casinos around the country and in New York State, one here would likely not serve as a draw for out-of-towners.”

Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the state and the Seneca Nation need to reach an agreement to allow casinos to open. With the current compact, the Seneca Nation agreed to pay a portion of its revenues on slot machines and other gaming devices to the state in exchange for the exclusive right to offer gambling west of State Route 14.