It's one of the biggest rules in business: “location, location, location.”
But location may now spell doom for Batavia Downs’ casino – as in, proximity to Native American casinos.
“I’m very concerned, because this is my county where Batavia Downs is,” said Western Regional OTB board member Dick Siebert Thursday. “It means so much to us in this county.”
Simply put, WROTB and other gambling agencies in New York have pressed the state legislature for months to expand legal gambling to include table games, like roulette and poker. On Wednesday night, lawmakers made a tentative agreement to do so.
The agencies’ one caveat all along has been that expanded gambling should only be limited to the nine existing “racinos” (raceway-casinos). Officials claim any more casinos would be an “over-saturation.”
But the problem Wednesday night was not approving too many casinos – rather, the state legislature agreed to approve only seven expanded-gambling casinos. Which means at least two “racinos” will be left out of the mix.
“Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs are the closest raceways to the Seneca’s casinos (in Niagara Falls and Allegany), and they’re the ones putting the heat on the state,” Siebert points out. “So I’ve got a strange but very sound feeling that we’re the two being targeted.”
The Senecas have long-opposed any gambling expansion in the state, claiming exclusive rights to casino operation by way of the Gaming Compact Treaty of 2002. The treaty purportedly only allows casino-style gambling on Native American lands.
Siebert believes the Seneca’s loud vocal opposition and lobbying in recent weeks led the state to the seven-casino limit – which may end up excluding Batavia Downs.
“They’re behind it,” he says. “They’ve got money, and they’re throwing it around. They don’t want the competition. But not having Batavia Downs be a full casino hurts Western New York a lot more than what might happen to the Senecas.
“I’ll probably get myself in trouble to say it – but it’s the truth,” Siebert says.
But not everyone is interested in gloom and doom. After all, the seven approved casinos still have not been chosen, and each “racino” will have a chance to make its case to the legislature.
That gives Batavia Downs CEO Michael Kane, hope.
“I don’t think it takes Batavia Downs out of the mix at all,” says Kane. “I think the number was just negotiated between the governor and the two houses.”
Kane admits the deal does give cause for concern. One of the biggest risks is the planned multi-million dollar expansion at Batavia Downs. Kane says the project doesn’t rely on expanded gambling approval – but it does include an expanded gaming floor designed for table games.
“Whether we attempt to get that number, seven, changed…that may be the course we decide to take,” says Kane. “But regardless, we will be lobbying strongly that a publicly-owned casino (Batavia Downs), which provides jobs and revenue, certainly deserves consideration for enhanced casino gambling.”
Siebert echoes that sentiment, with an edge.
“There are seven – we want to be one of the seven,” he says. “Why should Western New York be cut out? That’s the part that annoys me.”