Niagara County supports casino at Batavia

Batavia News

Niagara County is the latest municipality in Western New York to back efforts for a full-blown casino at Batavia Downs and eight other “racinos” in the state.

The Niagara County Legislature on Tuesday approved a resolution in support of casino gambling at the nine race tracks that currently have video gaming facilities. Niagara is the 12th county to endorse the proposal for Batavia Downs, which is owned by Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Fourteen counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester all have ownership stakes in WROTB.

Since WROTB formed in 1973, it has returned $18 million to Niagara County, Niagara legislators said on Tuesday.

WROTB officials consider the Niagara resolution an important one because that community feels the impact of a dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York State. The Senecas operate casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca. The Nation has withheld nearly $500 million in casino payments to the state and three cities.

The Senecas claim the state violated terms of the nation’s casino compact by allowing video gaming at Batavia, Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg and Finger Lakes Race Track in Farmington.

Barry Snyder, the newly elected president of the Senecas, told The Buffalo News the nation remains fiercely opposed to video gaming at the three race tracks.

“All the state’s got to do is remove the machines from the racinos, calculate all the money we’ve lost because of those machines, and pay us,” Snyder told The Buffalo News on Nov. 7.

WROTB officials have tried to contrast their relationship with the state and local governments. WROTB sends $3 to $4 million annual back to its member counties and the two cities, a number that would likely grow if Batavia Downs was picked as a casino site.

If the governor and State Legislature approve Batavia for a casino, WROTB said it would spend $86 million on an expansion at the Downs.

Niagara, in its resolution on Tuesday, praised Batavia Downs and the other “racinos” for their track record as proven business partners with the state. The Niagara Legislature also praised WROTB and other video gaming operators for running their sites “in a socially responsible and economically sensible manner.”

Other counties to formally back casinos for Batavia include Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston, Oswego, Orleans, Steuben, Schuyler, Wayne, Cayuga, Seneca and Erie counties. WROTB is trying to line up support from Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Monroe counties, and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

“We are encouraged by the continued and overwhelming support of Western and Central New York Counties and the importance of Batavia Downs Casino to the local municipalities and state Education,” Michael Nolan, WROTB chief operating officer, said in a statement. “The counties have recognized that as the only municipally owned casino in New York State the revenues not only help State Education, but also help local property tax relief for the 17 municipalities that own Batavia Downs.”