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Apr 15 - Apr 23, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities: Niagara Falls Gets Shaft while Albany Sits Pretty

By Mike Hudson

April 15, 2014

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster is glad that his city got the deal that it got from Gov. Cuomo
"I'll take care of you," the Gov. told Dyster.

Albany, the state capitol, is on the fast track for one of four upstate non-Indian casinos in a deal that couldn't be more different than the one forced on Niagara Falls by Albany officials.

While the Albany deal might be compared to a top of the line 2014 Cadillac XTS, the Niagara Falls arrangement is more akin to a 1994 Toyota with a big dent in the passenger side door and a bad muffler.

Some comparisons:

Under the Albany arrangement, local officials – the mayor and the city council – are in charge of negotiations with the casino developer. In Niagara Falls, the terms of the original compact with the Seneca Nation of Indians and last year's subsequent 10-year extension of the terms were dictated to the city  by the state Assembly, Senate and governor's office.

In Niagara Falls, the city receives 25 percent of the 25 percent of slot machine revenue while the state keeps the other 75 percent. Albany residents will enjoy a yet-to-be determined percentage of the whole enchilada, including slots, table games, bed tax revenue from the 350-room hotel that will be a part of the casino, restaurant and bar receipts and sales at the many boutiques and general merchandise stores that are a part of every modern casino.       

Niagara Falls receives exactly zero in property taxes from the owners of the casino, the Seneca Nation of Indians. Albany will collect full taxes on the casino there, which has been estimated to have a value of between $300 and $400 million once completed.

While the Senecas were given the former Niagara Falls convention center and 50 acres of prime real estate for free to open their casino, developers in Albany will have to buy their own property. The current choice of property there is a 60-acre site at Exit 23 on the Thruway, on Albany's South Side. The property is owned by the Noonan clan, the maternal side of New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's family, which should go a long way toward overcoming any unforeseen regulatory issues the project might face in Washington.

The 1,800 permanent casino and hotel jobs created in Albany would all be unionized under the agreement, and virtually everyone working at the entertainment complex would be a resident of the Capitol District. In Niagara Falls there is no union presence at the hotel or casino, and a large number of casino employees are Seneca Indians brought in from the Cattaraugus and Salamanca reservations.

Finally, Albany city officials have already stipulated that whomever the casino developer is, a surcharge in excess of $3 million each year will be assessed in addition to other revenue in order to pay for police and fire protection and increased usage of city infrastructure. Niagara Falls receives exactly zero.

Compared to what the City of Albany will get, Niagara Falls got shafted

Although a vote by the Albany Common Council isn't scheduled until May 5, the results are a foregone conclusion. Sources close to Albany city government tell the Niagara Falls Reporter that approval is certain, and then the real work of finding the highest bidder and wringing as much money out of them as possible can begin.

"People would riot in the streets if the city turned its back on this," said the source, who asked not to be identified. "Things are tough everywhere in upstate New York, and we need the money and we need the jobs."

There has been some opposition to the casino in Albany, just as there was in Niagara Falls. Increased crime, gambling addiction and other matters have been discussed at public hearings held on the project.

But Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan has thrown her support behind the casino initiative.

"People have concerns obviously about problem gambling," she said. "But I also talked about the importance of creating jobs."

And Marlon Anderson, who will oppose Sheehan in the November election, is also enthusiastic about the project.

"It could be a game-changer for the city of Albany in the way Global Foundries was a game-changer for Malta and the racino was a game-changer for Saratoga Springs," said Anderson, a former city mayoral candidate and community activist.

The state Gaming Commission released its request for applications two weeks ago. Included in its 80 pages is a detailed list of what's required from operators, like proof of local support from the community, which includes "a resolution passed by the local legislative body of its host municipality supporting the application."

Prospective operators are required to pay a $1 million application fee by April 23. The final deadline for the full application is June 30. The Seneca Nation of Indians, of course, paid nothing to "apply" as operators of the gifted Niagara Falls Casino.

The Albany casino would have a 60,000-square-foot-to-70,000-square-foot gaming floor; 350-room hotel; restaurants; indoor horse riding rink; outdoor trails; and an indoor water park bigger than the one at Great Escape in Lake George, sources said.

A tale of two cities: The heartbreaking one in Niagara Falls and the soon to be success story in Albany, where Niagara Falls residents send their exorbitant tax money only to never see it again.

Albany will get a piece of all the action, unlike Niagara Falls.





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