Don’t Gamble with Local Towns’ Future in the Next Seneca Gaming Compact

By Michael Enslow | November 27, 2023

With barely two weeks to go until the Seneca Nation’s gaming compact with New York State expires, there seem to be just two available options: Reaching a new long-term deal or temporarily extending the current agreement at the last minute.

Each day closer to the deadline without a clear path forward brings uncertainty that local towns and counties could do without – and that also goes for municipalities far beyond just those where Seneca casinos are located.

Communities that benefit from other non-Seneca gaming operations are left to wonder what happens next after a near-deal reached quite literally in the dark of night in June would have paved the way for a Rochester casino. That would have struck a fatal blow at the local level to both gaming revenues and the job market.

What remains clear is that the state must negotiate with transparency and fairness to achieve an agreement that benefits all communities across Western New York and the Finger Lakes.

That requires careful navigation of the delicate gaming ecosystem to maintain the economic benefits municipalities and taxpayers reap from the region’s existing gaming facilities.

Consider the recent announcement that the Town of Tyre, where del Lago Resort & Casino is located, will use host-community revenue to entirely eliminate the town tax levy for the general and highway funds in 2024.

Take a drive down the Thruway and see that video lottery terminal revenue from Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack has helped Farmington fund a highway garage, town justice building and new 40-acre park, the town supervisor told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle in June, while Batavia Downs’ record-breaking 2022 generated $9.2 million shared with local municipalities.

What’s more, tourism-related economic impact leads to further tax benefits. For example, looking solely at Seneca County, where Tyre is located and del Lago is the largest entertainment employer, a study commissioned by Empire State Development released earlier this year showed residents save $746 per household thanks to tourism-generated taxes.

This is to say nothing of what gaming facilities contribute to the state coffers, with del Lago, Finger Lakes Gaming, Hamburg Gaming and Batavia Downs sending $180 million in annual gaming taxes to Albany.

More than that, gaming serves as an economic engine for communities. There are more than 3,500 good-paying, family-supporting jobs providing upward career mobility at non-Native gaming facilities in Tyre, Hamburg, Batavia, and Farmington, drawing on talent from around the region. Plus, these facilities utilize local vendors and their patrons support spinoff businesses that also provide critical additional employment opportunities.

The clear benefits gaming facilities provide are threatened. A 2021 state Gaming Commission study found that the upstate market is oversaturated. In addition, the state comptroller sounded the alarm earlier this year that the benefits existing gaming facilities generate for their host communities are threatened by the potential opening of new operations.

Those analyses make clear that a proposal allowing any additional gaming in the region as part of a new Seneca gaming compact would be catastrophic for municipalities that count on existing facilities to bolster their budgets, local businesses, and community initiatives.

The clock is ticking to get a new Seneca gaming compact done. And it must be done the right way, with fairness for all. Fairness means being transparent about what a proposed deal includes so communities have a say BEFORE it’s ratified. This is something state lawmakers have rightly called for and local officials have passed resolutions demanding.

Anything less is a bad gamble on the future of communities that deserve good-paying jobs and revenues that enable a higher-quality way of life.

Michael Enslow, of Waterloo, is chairman of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors.