A new proposal has brought fresh attention to the topic of locating a casino in downtown Rochester—an idea first raised more than a decade ago. As before, the idea has both fans and foes.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll oppose putting a facility with a casino and performing arts center in downtown Rochester. Of those, 38 percent say they are strongly opposed.
Even more—71 percent—are opposed to a stand-alone casino.
City Hall confirmed that Mayor Lovely Warren has had conversations with the Seneca Nation of Indians and developers on the casino idea. She also “continues to be interested in a downtown performing arts center.” The proposal under discussion would put a casino and performing arts center under a single roof.
The idea is being advanced by developer Robert Morgan, who is a partner in the development of Tower280, the former Midtown Tower. Asked about the casino proposal at a recent RBJ event on downtown development, Morgan said his focus was on creating jobs, whether at the Midtown site or another location downtown.
The Seneca Nation, through its Seneca Gaming Corp., owns and operates the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo, a $130 million gaming facility that opened in 2013. It also operates Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls and the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino in Salamanca.
In 2004, developer Thomas Wilmot proposed a hotel-and-casino facility at the site of the Sibley Building and Midtown Plaza. In 2013, discussion of a downtown casino arose again as the Seneca Nation negotiated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to settle a dispute over gaming revenues. A year later, the Seneca Gaming Corp. purchased land in Henrietta as a potential site for an entertainment facility with a casino.
When the same question was asked in 2013, more than half of respondents opposed putting a casino in downtown Rochester. Of the 55 percent opposed, 37 percent said they strongly opposed.
Nearly 1,010 respondents participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted May 9 and 10.
Do you favor or oppose putting a facility with a casino and performing arts center in downtown Rochester?
Favor strongly: 16%
Oppose strongly: 38%
Would you favor or oppose putting a stand-alone casino in downtown Rochester?
Favor strongly: 10%
Oppose strongly: 52%
Casinos, by design, are intended to draw patrons and their money into a literal black hole, ensuring that no dollars emanate out to the surrounding area businesses. If a casino development gets approval for downtown Rochester, then we might as well save time and money by taking residents’ and visitors’ money and pouring it straight into the sewer. The effect on the local economy will be about the same.
As a native of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and a former resident of Oneida, I have seen no social or economic benefit accruing the surrounding areas there. Casinos typically draw local residents, and money spent in a casino results in less money spent on other goods and services that do create jobs and a sustainable local economy. Our downtown seems to be developing rather nicely and I see no need for a gimmick like this.
—John P. Gleason, Gleason Fundraising Consulting
Really, a casino? Doesn’t anyone have any better ideas for downtown? If I had bought an expensive loft, townhome or any other residential dwelling I would not want a casino in my neighborhood. I would feel that I wasted my money! Let’s prey on gambling addiction! Why not an OTB on every corner! You’re trying to improve downtown, not degrade it.
A multipurpose venue will bring more people into the facility and the exposure will be high. I love being downtown and hope to see more of the same in the future.
If a casino must be included, it has to be a “real casino” and not a low-end slots and video gaming “bogus casino.” Good luck.
Two words: Atlantic City.
—Peter Bianco, president and CEO, Finger Lakes MedTech LLC
Casino and performing arts under one roof—images of a smoke-filled room with cabaret dancers comes to mind. Aren’t there enough casinos already? Do we have more gamblers now in Rochester? Do we want them?
How long will we continue to hash this out? We need development downtown and we need a performing arts center—pull the trigger!
—Lou Calarese, president, Applied Audio and Theatre Supply
With the proliferation of casinos across the country, there is little draw from people outside the area to come to Rochester because of a new local casino, so you are not generating new dollars, just redistributing the existing entertainment dollars. Dollars spent at a casino are not being spent elsewhere and so the net is little, if any, gain. (And harm to existing businesses.) And profits are taken out of the community instead of being recycled locally. Also, casinos come with additional problems with excess and addiction that harm the community as a whole. On a personal note, I would be much less likely to attend a performing arts center tied to a casino as I find the environment depressing.
—Jeff Schuetz, Mitchell Pierson Jr. Realtors
The “Golden Goose” casino is myth. The market is well saturated and will not bring new blood to our city. It’s about time city leadership begins to look for original ideas to bring life back to our city.
A casino in any flavor would be the end of downtown. Oh, I get the economic argument and won’t deny that it would bring jobs and money to the city. But I ask you, is this the industry to save downtown Rochester? Kodak, Xerox, IBM, B&L, nah, those are the companies of the past—casinos are the future! Really? Yes, entertainment is technically a product, but the strength of an economy is built on what it creates. Is this what we are reduced to—industry based on our vices? Maybe I’m a dreamer and I just need to eagle up to reality, but I want more for Rochester than the legacy that downtown is where people go to lose money. I want downtown Rochester to be where people go to make money.
—Jim Garnham, Penfield
Is this a political question, a popular question, or a business question? This should be a very straightforward business decision for the interest involved. If they can justify the ROI, then they should do it. If they can’t, then they should drop it. Why is it that we always have to figure out either how much of a project the public should shoulder the burden for, or how much of a penalty we should charge the interests involved to proceed with their plans? You have to love the “free market.”
—Kenya Burn-Moore, Rochester
Rochester’s downtown needs more attractions to draw more people to live and enjoy downtown. The casino and the performing arts center will both draw crowds to enliven downtown. If we can get the casino and the performing arts center built without public funds, that would be another big plus. We can learn from the experience of other cities with casinos to help deal with any problems from the casino. I’m sorry we waited, but in a way I’m glad we waited.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services PC
The casino should be built in downtown Rochester. The Buffalo casino is doing great and is creating a lot of vibrancy in downtown.
Gambling is not the kind of entertainment that sets the right tone for the city. Giving up sovereignty in the heart of downtown is a terrible idea.
—Kate Kressmann-Kehoe, city resident
We can’t control the crime; now adding a casino would tax the police even more than they are now. Bad Idea!
Definition of stupidity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Casinos always enrich the developers and builders, sometimes enrich the owners, and never provide long-term benefit to the communities in which they reside. Casinos prey on the poor and give them a false hope for immediate riches. Let’s work to reduce our poverty rate instead of raising our rate of stupidity.
—Dorver Kendig, Webster
Nothing says “doomed city” like a casino. Drive over to Niagara Falls and see what a hopeless, abandoned, filthy, ruined city that looks like after a casino. Is our region so lacking in great thinking that this is the only thing our mayor can muster? How do the grand traditions of George Eastman, Joseph Wilson and our history of world-class horticulture and arts/culture go hand in hand with something this craven? As a 40-year resident of the city of Rochester, I thought we could not hit a new low. This is it. The shame is that when Larry Glazer died, so did any sort of real scheme to revitalize downtown. I have just returned from the Netherlands, where a tiny country not only keeps the sea from destroying it, but trades in its strengths—horticulture, agriculture, art, culture along with high-tech. We possess all of those elements, but we refuse to allow anyone with real imagination and vision to move us forward because they are not white, Republican males living in the suburbs of Rochester sitting on bundles of cash. Oh, I know, they will buy a “luxury apartment” in downtown Rochester to be close to the casino. Shame on any of you for entertaining this crass, immoral idea.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design
The city should put something of value with tax benefits in that space. The luxury apartments surrounding Midtown should not look down on a casino with smoking, crowds and traffic.
—Roslyn Bakst Goldman
A casino located near the Riverside Convention Center and downtown hotels would be better than the Midtown site. For example, have the Seneca Nation agree to purchase and renovate the First Federal building that overlooks the river into a multi-level casino, restoring the revolving restaurant at the top of the building and funding construction of a separate performing arts center on Main Street. The Senecas could also pay to relocate tenants from the First Federal building to vacant office space that exists in downtown Rochester.
—Michael Caceci, Pittsford
Casinos typically do little or nothing for the surrounding area. They are designed to keep you in the casino, not let you out to see other sights. In addition, gambling and gambling addiction is a serious problem that adding additional betting parlors will not make easier to deal with. What Rochester needs is a downtown revitalized by strong small and large business and residential backing, and that’s something a casino won’t help with. Shoot for mixed use a la the Village Gate, not big expensive projects for large companies that will just pull out the minute they are bought.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.
I would favor it as long as it was a full casino, not just a slot machine venue.
—Cheryl Yawman, Cochran, Cochran & Yale
The casino needs to include table games to be profitable.
—Ed Rosen, Fairport
So we have encouraged people to move downtown and now we introduce a casino. Great jobs will not be created. Look at other cities. Why not put it next to stadium and create the fun zone.
While a new performing arts center would benefit downtown, I see no long-term benefit to the casino. Look at Niagara Falls area (in New York State) where the casino is. It is certainly not a happy prosperous area—lost business after the casino was built. We need to learn from our mistakes, not repeat them.
—Kim Pandina, Panda Wear
I continue to find it extremely disturbing that so many cities seem to view building a casino as a panacea to a host of urban economic problems. It’s not. Dismantling the crushingly oppressive tax structure and eliminating the morass of business regulations foisted upon companies would yield far better results. Cleaning house in Albany can help make it all happen.
—Robert B. Salmon, Penfield
In my opinion, a casino is an economic Hail Mary that often backfires by undermining small business and introducing the (often significant) social costs of legalized gambling. Casinos do create jobs, but they also tend to keep new spending within the casino property—the suggestion that an influx of tourist dollars will stream into area businesses may be an exaggeration, if not an outright myth. And legalized gambling tends to increase pressure on criminal justice and social welfare systems. Unless a community has nothing else (and that’s not us, Rochester), I believe a downtown casino is a net negative.
—Martha Clement, Rochford
If downtown really takes off, more hotels are built, and tourism increases, then a casino may start to make sense. But, if one is built it needs to be a full casino, not just slots. The other concern is what impact would this have on revenue/taxes if run by Seneca Gaming Corp.? The timing to me is not right for a makeshift casino; so many other positive changes need to take place first. As a community, let’s think of something no one else in the region has that can be developed into a tourist attraction (the aqueducts and old subway bed come to mind).
I am all for a performing arts center downtown. Rochester is known for arts.
—Shaunta Collier-Santos, CEO, LandNPR Productions
Las Vegas and Atlantic City gaming are having very hard times. We have Indian-owned casinos in Buffalo, Salamanca and Verona (Turning Stone) and casinos planned in the Albany area, 50 miles East of here (Lago-Wilmot) and talk of one in the Catskill area. Ever hear of saturation? We have the Eastman, The Auditorium and Geva which all at times complain of financial difficulties. We need another performing arts center to further dilute revenue? And who will pay for it (duh)? We don’t need another Fast Ferry!
—Art Elting, Palmyra
Why do we continue to think a casino will solve all our problems? I believe downtown would receive more benefits from a first-class performing arts center. There are plenty of other nearby options for those who wish to gamble.
Without the performing arts center, I would strongly oppose a standalone casino. Casinos often attract undesirables who cause trouble and do nothing to improve the community where casinos exist. The “Performing ARTS Center” would add to the positive image of Rochester.
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport
Based on current behavior and history of casinos elsewhere, doesn’t make sense to promote this gambling amongst the least likely to be able to afford and not become addicts to the scam in the name of raising additional tax revenue! Casinos are losers long-term, not economic engines as promoted by those who benefit, i.e.: politicians!
Come on, Rochester! We can do better than a casino! Always hoping an interesting retailer like IKEA will enter the scene, especially now with millennials wanting to live in town. A retailer such as IKEA will draw from the suburbs and create the appropriate shopping venue for city dwellers.
—Karen Kall, On Kall Marketing
The last thing Rochester needs downtown is a casino. As the city slides into poverty and out of control, proposing gambling as a solution is like using gasoline to stop a fire. A better choice would decriminalize drugs and tax and control the distribution, at least that way we wouldn’t be cutting into the state’s action.
The city would benefit from a combo-performing arts and casino so I would favor a combination facility in the city. However, if it is determined that a standalone casino is the choice, then I recommend putting it in Pittsford for two reasons. First, that is the home of the lion’s share of discretionary spending money and second, that would demonstrate the sincere commitment of the suburban townships to the ultimate success of a standalone casino as a workplace and as a recreational attraction in Monroe County.
—Wayne Donner, Rush
A casino will not bring the type of individuals desired into the downtown area. More than likely, it will discourage the current developing influx of “downtown” dwellers now attracted to this area.
We keep visiting this really bad idea. The arts center is fine but not with a casino. I think the many festivals and plays and concerts do a much better job of getting people downtown and they are a fit for everyone. I believe to keep people coming back you need more stores, shops and restaurants. When people go to casinos that is where they stay until they go home—usually much lower on money. Scrap the casino idea once and for all.
No casino. Please, no casino. We don’t need the center of our city defined by a casino. I don’t have to live here and will happily look at casino-free cities should Rochester go this path.
Downtown should be a place that has attractions for virtually all people. While a casino might be welcomed by some, it would repel far more. If there has to be a casino in Rochester, put it somewhere else.
Are we that desperate? Casinos are the last resort (no pun intended) of municipalities that are bereft of resources and lacking a well qualified workforce. Is it possible that so many high profile developers are investing their hard earned money in a city that is on its last legs? I don’t think so. Not yet anyway. Rochester can do better.
—John Calia, Fairport
Casinos by their very nature add nothing to a downtown. Look at Atlantic City and Niagara Falls, N.Y. Both slums around the casinos. Downtown is best when it focuses on human scale residential, retail, entertainment projects that stress walkability. No magic potions for our city. Just honest, hard work.
I do not agree with adding an addiction-related business to our community. It is not right to prey on individuals to falsely re-energize our community. This lowers the class of our city. We need to bring in true value back to our downtown. What happened to bringing companies that will get us back on the map? I would gladly work on bringing in better alternatives.
This is a terrible short-sighted idea that rivals the fast ferry fiasco. A casino would create a finite number of low-paying jobs at the expense of our broad working class. The only winners would be the politicians, construction workers and Seneca Nation who would reap all the profits at the expense of the Rochester community all while not reinvesting a dime back into the local community. Look no further than Niagara Falls for proof. Rochester doesn’t stand to gain anything positive but would serve as a siphoner of money from hard-working people. A redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the developers and Seneca Nation. Our politicians should focus their energies on luring industries which could provide stable good paying jobs to grow our citizenry. I won’t elaborate about the destruction of family units, lost homes and college funds, depression and despair which would ripple through the community as people flush their hard earned money and dreams away as an easily accessible local casino. I suggest the mayor go visit communities with long-established casinos and observe the urban blight and broken souls. Nobody set out to become a degenerate, but instead were coaxed along by short-sighted politicians and developers with greedy personal ambitions. If people are determined to gamble and lose their earnings and life savings; they can do so in Las Vegas or in a neighboring city casino. They can make the conscientious decision to travel further away intent on ruining their lives rather than be coerced into poor decisions by our trusted elected leaders. Shame on our elected officials for entertaining such a losing proposition. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. They should focus on projects adding value to the community rather than inviting negative consequences.
—Jim Manou, work and live downtown
I am a recent transfer from Buffalo where there is a casino near the downtown area. The experience there shows that the developers overstate and under-deliver on their promises of the facility and then they will blame the state and local governments as the reason why they could not provide what was promised. Also, casinos developers frequently tout that their facility will be the center of dynamic activity. Not true in Buffalo! Reality seems to indicate that no one wants to live near a casino and the casino operators themselves don’t want competitive businesses near them. Go to Buffalo and see for yourself. You will see a much smaller and less grand than promised casino, surrounded by a ring of parking lots and some empty buildings. Granted, there are a few lofts being developed not too far away, but it’s far from the panacea promised! Rochester is my new home. I would hate to see such a beautiful city fall for the carrot of a performing arts center being dangled before us and get saddled with a facility no one wants to live, work, or shop near. And a business whose operating objective is to take as much cash away from its customers as possible in the guise of entertainment—cash from an already greatly impoverished city population. The real positive lesson to learn from Rochester’s western neighbor is the success of Canalside, a downtown public space, jerry-rigged together from the ashes of the failed Bass Pro retail proposal. In a very short time, it’s now drawing thousands upon thousands of people downtown year-round with outdoor skating rinks, concerts large and small, watercraft rentals, children’s activities, historical sites, large outdoor fitness classes, food truck rodeo’s, and just relaxing green space near the water. Take it from this Buffalo transplant—Rochester shouldn’t even want a casino! Make green space and a place for community activity and the community will find its way there! Do better! Find another way to get a new performing arts center. One linked to a casino is not worth the cost.
—Jonathan Winnie, Brown & Brown Insurance
A casino is a bad idea for Rochester in every way. I can think of nothing more depressing and ill-advised. The casino market is nearly saturated, and they do not revive cities. There is much documentation, such as this article in The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/08/a-good-way-to-wreck-a-local-economy-build-casinos/375691/ We can do better than this.
—Mary Lou Wilson
5/13/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]