Gambling on casinos in western New York


Indian casinos are much in the news here. The Seneca Nation, which developed a casino in the old convention center in Niagara Falls, NY, plans to build one east of the airport in Cheektowaga. (And you thought Oklahoma was the only state with interesting Indian place names. Up here, they've also got Gowanda, Tonawandas -- North and plain, Lackawanna -- maybe they can borrow one from Tonawandas.) Buffalo pols are frustrated because they thought they helped push through the state gaming compact which authorized a casino in the Buffalo area. City officials thought they had a promise that the casino would be in the city limits, preferably in downtown. The Senecas point out that the compact wasn't that specific, and that they couldn't find a place in the City of Buffalo to meet their requirements. City officials are threatening lawsuits. A better approach might be to trademark the city's name so that the Seneca Nation can't use it in the name of the casino. If they want to call it "Seneca Buffalo" casino, they'd have to put it in Buffalo. Otherwise they'll have to hope people can remember where Cheektowaga is.

Reports are that the casino has done nothing for hotel occupancies in Niagara Falls, NY. Ontario has a competing casino across the river with slightly lower minimums, along with a better view of the falls and a range of tourist attractions from natural beauty to businesses that would be equally at home on Highway 76 in Branson. The Ontario casino is sandwiched between Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not, Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, a Hershey Store, a Coca-Cola Store, and is just a few steps away from the gorge's edge. The New York casino is in a dead part of downtown Niagara Falls, surrounded by surface parking lots, apparently the result of earlier urban renewal efforts.

The cheapest blackjack table is CAN $15 in Ontario; US $15 at the Senecas' casino. That's a lot of money to bet on the turn of a single card, and it reflects the difference between a state-enforced gambling monopoly and the free market that exists in Nevada. In Nevada, you can sit down at a $2 minimum table with a $50 bankroll -- what you might otherwise spend on an evening's entertainment -- and play for a long time. That makes it easier for people to play without going over a prudent limit. In New York, you can lose it all in four hands -- if you're going to play for an hour or so you'll need to be prepared to lose a lot more. I suspect that the high minimum casinos attract more local compulsive gamblers and not the casual players from out of state that you would find in Vegas or Mississippi -- the kind that actually bring money into the state. If Oklahoma's going to open the door to gambling, we ought to allow free competition (with appropriate regulation), not a state-sponsored monopoly.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 26, 2004 6:18 AM.

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