Seneca Indian Nation quietly opens third casino

Buffalo, New York — The Seneca Indian Nation quietly opened its third casino Tuesday, a day after the National Indian Gaming Commission sided with the tribe over opponents who claim it is illegal.

Workers labored through the night wiring 124 slot machines inside a small warehouse-type building that will serve as an interim casino while a USD 125 million permanent complex is built over the next year and a half.

„We tried to make it real quiet,“ Barry Snyder, chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp., said as word of the late morning opening trickled out without so much as a press release. „It’s a temporary casino. There wasn’t a lot to say.“

The temporary venue, with 50 employees, fulfills a requirement that a casino had to be in operation by December.

The Senecas built the facility and put workers on call while the Indian Gaming Commission, at the request of a federal judge hearing an opposition lawsuit, reviewed a 2002 agreement allowing construction. The doors opened about 18 hours after the five-page decision was delivered. The New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the mayor and state police were told of the plans, tribal leaders said.

„The Seneca Nation followed all the rules, followed all the regulations,“ said Barry Brandon, Seneca Gaming Corp. senior vice president and general counsel.

Opponents vowed the legal fight would continue.

„Don’t get too comfortable,“ Joseph Finnerty, the lawyer for Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County, said he would advise the Senecas.

The group plans to continue asking the courts to rule casino gambling illegal in the city because it is not sovereign land. The Senecas purchased a nine-acre parcel for the casino.

„The facts and the law are really very much on our side,“ opponent Joel Rose said. „I held out some hope that the National Indian Gaming Commission would feel constrained by that, but apparently not.“

The opening was a pleasant surprise for Bertha Hyde, who lives nearby and had been keeping an eye on the site since construction began.

„We saw the cars (in the parking lot) so we kept driving around ‚til they opened the gate,“ she said after leaving the casino with her sister. „There’s a senior group over there that’s got a bus that’s waiting to come.“

The Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino is seen as part of a broader development plan for an underutilized and largely industrial area of the city. Officials are pursuing a Bass Pro store and other retailers nearby.

The 8,000-member Seneca Indian Nation already operates two lucrative western New York casinos, in Niagara Falls and on their reservation in Salamanca. The Buffalo venue, which eventually will employ 1,000, is the final one allowed under a compact with New York state that requires the tribe to share a percentage of slot machine revenues with the state and host cities.