NIAGARA FALLS — Three casinos.
Thousands of jobs.
More than a billion dollars in economic benefits.
That’s the legacy Seneca Nation of Indians officials said Wednesday their casino operations have had in Western New York in the two decades since signing a gambling pact that has paved the way for Class II games in Niagara, Erie and Cattaraugus counties.
At a press conference outside the Seneca Niagara Casino – the nation’s flagship gaming operation casino – Seneca leaders and supporters marked the 20th anniversary of the gambling pact with a ‘big celebration’ who highlighted the positive spinoffs from Falls Casino and its sister operations, Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo and Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca.
“We are here today to celebrate a moment of great significance in the history of the Seneca Nation and the history of Western New York,” said Kevin Nephew, President and CEO of Seneca. Gaming Corp.
The gambling pact was officially signed by former Seneca Indian Nation President Cyrus Schindler and former Governor George Pataki on August 18, 2002. The agreement paved the way for the Senecas to own and operate Class III gaming facilities in an exclusive western territory. New York which included the counties of Niagara, Erie and Cattaraugus.
Seneca Niagara came out on top, meeting an aggressive deadline to turn the former Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center into a casino within 100 days of signing the pact.
Paul Brown, chairman of the Buffalo and Niagara Building Trades Councils, said the impressive feat is a testament to the Senecas’ ability to get things done in an area where progress isn’t always the norm.
“One thing I can say is when the Senecas say they’re going to do it, they do it,” Brown said. “I would like to give them all Western New York so they can do so much more.”
Seneca executives said that since opening the first casino in Falls, the Nation has grown to include two other casino operations that currently employ more than 3,000 workers, with about 1,000 each in Niagara and from Erie.
Beyond jobs inside the casinos, Seneca executives said their gaming company has provided work for area construction workers and contributed to the economy through payments made to vendors who supply food and other items at their facilities. In total, Seneca Nation officials say their casino operations have had an economic impact on the region of more than $1.7 billion over the past 20 years.
Then there are income payments.
As part of the pact, the Seneca Nation donated 25% of revenue from its slot machines and video lottery terminals to New York State. In turn, the state distributed 25% of that revenue to the communities where the casinos are located, including Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca.
Joe Ruffolo, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, which received $750,000 in casino revenue a year under the gambling pact — said the $15 million his hospital received in Seneca Casino’s 20 years of operation have helped the hospital build a new emergency room and heart center.
“That $15 million was the catalyst for a major transformation two blocks from here,” Ruffolo said.