Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
The Seneca's Buffalo Creek Casino
by Bruce Jackson
If they are successful, they will do great harm to nearly everyone who lives in the city. That is because a gambling joint in downtown Buffalo would suck more money and jobs out of the city than it would ever bring in, and as a consequence it would drive untold numbers of local businesses into oblivion, and drag the city down in the process.
Not only would a casino drain money from a city climbing back from the fiscal edge and result in a net loss of jobs, but the jobs it did provide would come at lower pay and with few, if any, of the protections of the jobs they displace. A downtown casino would cripple or drive out of business a significant number of Buffalo's restaurants, theaters, bars, bookstores, clothing stores, appliance stores, non-profit organizations supported by contributions from the public, and just about any other legitimate enterprise that depends in whole or part on discretionary income.
In compensation for losing part of its land to a sovereign nation, the city would get a small cut of the state's 25 percent cut of the casino's slot machine drop. Current estimates put Buffalo and Erie County's share at $5 to $7 million a year, which won't come close to compensating the city for huge amount of money the casino will deflect from taxpaying businesses, or for the vast amount of city services the casino will require, such as increased demands on fire companies and hospitals, on agencies that handle problem gamblers, increased bankruptcies, and everything connected with a huge increase in local vehicular traffic.
The Seneca Indians and the developers and operators working with them would make a lot of money, but Buffalo's percentage of the state's percentage is locked in for only seven years, after which there is no guarantee that the city will get anything. Workers in local construction trades would make good money while the casino and its other buildings were going up, but then they'd suffer too when those jobs end, the casino's drain kicks in, and the area's economy goes into inevitable decline and less and less new construction is started.
A downtown casino would also be a huge disincentive to businesses elsewhere thinking about relocating to Buffalo. Who would want to move a thriving business to a downtown area where employees could squander their wages during lunch hour in a tax-exempt business that was steadily driving tax-paying businesses into bankruptcy, thereby guaranteeing a continuing reduction in city services and amenities?
Since it would be a Seneca Indian casino on land newly converted by US government fiat to be reservation land (even though it is more than 20 miles from any present Seneca reservation), no taxes would be paid on gambling profits, hotel profits, cigarette profits (at least under present policy), liquor profits, gasoline profits, or on whatever profits accrue from whatever other operations the owners care to set in motion there. If they set up a whorehouse, that will be tax-exempt too.
How can hotels that pay a bed tax and stores and other operations that pay a sales tax compete? How can ordinary bars and restaurants compete with a place that can afford to give customers free drinks because it knows they'll more than make up for the cost of the booze by what the suckers lose a few minutes later in the slots?
Since Indian casinos are also exempt from New York health codes, they can permit smoking. Employees in casinos have none of New York's health protections, and even if they did they can't sue in New York courts, so they have nowhere to go if they are injured by inhaling second-hand smoke. If you take a job in a Seneca casino as a waiter, croupier, janitor, musician, bartender, porter, then you breathe the smoke. And the people buying the tax-free tobacco and blowing the smoke aren't even contributing to the state budget, part of which in part pays for the huge cost of tobacco smoke-induced lung disease.
If you had driven these past few weeks past the nine-acre Michigan Avenue site at the edge of Buffalo's historic Cobblestone District where the Senecas hope to put their casino, you would have seen a fenced-in area inside of which a large crane with a wrecking ball was methodically destroying the milling facility adjacent to the H-O grain elevators. The Seneca wrecking ball hasn't attacked the grain elevators themselves, which are eligible for listing as historic structures, but it very well might. But New York historic preservation laws do not apply to tribal governments. Since Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, by her pocket assent, allowed the nine-acre site that the Senecas purchased at three times its assessed value from Buffalo developer Carl Paladino to become reservation land, the site is now sovereign territory—a place where very few, if any, New York State laws apply.
Perhaps the most telling line said by anyone at the December 9 groundbreaking came from Seneca Nation president and Seneca Gaming Corporation board chairman Barry E. Snyder Sr. When asked if he'd spoken with any of the preservationists concerned about the wrecking ball and all it portended for the Senecas' relation to the neighborhood and city, he said "No." When asked why not he said, "Because I don't have to."
There is a great deal the Senecas don't have to do on this land that was, until very recently, part of Buffalo and New York State but, if Secretary Norton's decision stands, will no longer be part of either. Ordinary employers must honor historic sites, pay taxes, protect workers, protect the environment, and cooperate in any investigation local police deem necessary; they must come to New York State courts when people who say they have suffered injury because of their negligence seek relief in those courts. Indian nations are exempt from all of that.
Buffalo's outgoing mayor Anthony Masiello and incoming mayor Byron Brown were at the December 9 groundbreaking. They were photographed grinning and carrying on, as politicians do at groundbreakings. The only thing missing were hard hats with a slot machine logo in front.
But why would Masiello and Brown dress up and grin into a lens at a site of current destruction and future exploitation? Can they really believe that only the new lowest wage/lowest benefit casino jobs matter and that the lost jobs elsewhere in town do not matter?
Why did they go inside that fenced-in compound where the wrecker's ball was methodically destroying that old brick building, and grin and shake hands and carry on as if this casino project were development rather than its exact opposite? Only Anthony Masiello and Byron Brown know, and neither is telling. Their complicity remains a sad mystery—one man at the end of his career as mayor, the other at the beginning, both of them mindlessly or cynically selling out the city they purport to love.
Byron Brown hides behind Big Daddy
Some of Anthony Masiello's best friends told him time and again that the downtown casino was a dog, but he wrapped his arms around it anyway. Perhaps he was bedazzled by developmental pixie dust sprinkled into his eyes by his friend Carl Paladino, as he was so many times in the past. But what explains Byron Brown's brain-death on the casino issue? Take a look at what he had to say in response to a question from WKBW anchor Susan Banks about the downside of a casino in Buffalo in the October 27 Artvoice mayoral debate in HSBC Arena, a few days before the election that put him in office:
Byron Brown: The reason that I support casino gambling is that it is expected to bring a thousand new jobs to the city of Buffalo. And I have called for fifty percent of those thousand new jobs to go to city of Buffalo residents. It's estimated to bring between five and seven million dollars in new revenue to the city of Buffalo and I have called for that revenue to be dedicated to the city of Buffalo, to be reinvested in this community for economic development projects, for housing projects to grow our tax base, and as a dedicated source of revenue for the culturals in this community. I have also said that we know that this casino will generate hundreds of construction jobs, and I have called for fifty percent of those construction jobs to go to city of Buffalo residents.
Judy Einach: The casino is expected to take away from our local economy out of our pockets $150 million in the first year. And in exchange for that, the thousand jobs may bring in $25 million and we may get $7 million to compensate us for the services we have to provide. It's a huge losing proposition. The land that we will give away. Unheard of to give land in the middle of a city to another nation. After 14 years they can do whatever they want with it and we'll have no control.
Ch. 7 reporter Aaron Baskerville: Senator Brown, you haven't told us what the negatives are to casino gambling. The question was, what are the negatives that you have recognized before you chose to support a casino?
Byron Brown: There certainly can be a downside to casino gambling, but this is something that was decided by the governor.
"It is expected...It is estimated?" By whom? You perhaps know Rule Numero Uno of Listening to Politicians Talk: "Whenever politicians drop into the passive voice, they are full of shit." It is an invariable rule, always applicable, as here. Brown does it while he is avoiding answering Banks' question the first time.
"I have called for?" My dog bays at the moon. That dog is calling for something. So what? Does the moon listen? "Called for" means nothing other than that noise was made.
Anthropologists and psychologists use the term "magical thinking" for people who have the notion that by saying words about something they can thereby make that something happen or make it real. What persons did or does Byron Brown think will listen or respond to his call for fifty percent of this and fifty percent of that? Where did he make it? His porch? City Hall steps? The Niagara Escarpment? Does he really think that because the mayor of Buffalo "calls for" anything people with money and power will deliver it?
It is all, of course, hot air. When candidate Judy Einach offered some realistic numbers and Aaron Baskerville repeated the question about negative impact posed by Banks, Brown immediately scooted into the protective cover of platitude and a flight from accountability.
How Big Daddy beat the law
The New York State Constitution originally prohibited all forms of gambling, but on four occasions it was amended to permit restricted exceptions: parimutuel betting (1937), church bingo (1957), the state lottery (1966), and off-track betting (1976). There were several attempts to legalize casino gambling, the most recent in 1997, but all of them failed. George Pataki's 2002 casino compact with the Senecas was a way to get around New York law, a way to do what the state's constitution says may not be done.
According to casino opponent Rev. Dr. G. Stanford Bratton, executive director of the Network of Religious Communities:
"On June 21, 2001 Governor George Pataki and President Cyrus Schindler of the Seneca Nation of Indians held a press conference at Niagara Falls to announce a deal to bring three casinos to Western New York, including one in Buffalo... It appeared that significant opposition to the proposed compact was growing when the events of September 11, 2001 occurred. Late in the evening of Wednesday October 24, 2001 and in the early hours of October 25, 2001 the members of both houses of the New York State Legislature were presented with an 81-page bill which the governor said would stimulate the State's economy following September 11, 2001. The proposed legislation was not subject to committee study; no public hearings were held and no opportunity was provided for input by the public. The process failed to meet the constitutional requirement of printed copies of legislation being on legislators' desks three days prior to a vote being taken. The bill, approving the compact negotiated by the governor with the President of the Seneca Nation, was approved, unread, without debate, by both houses of the legislature."
Which is to say, Governor George Pataki took advantage of the passion, fear, numbness, grief and hysteria around September 11 to get the legislators to do what he had wanted them to do all along. The legislators, without bothering to examine the impact of the compact or inquire into the feelings and needs of the communities most affected by it, simply gave away parts of Niagara Falls and Buffalo for gambling operations that would radically alter the economies, boundaries and social structures of both cities forever.
The life of dollars
Dollars spent in a town are not spent once. They have a life, a trajectory. They multiply. The money you spend in a restaurant pays for the restaurant's physical plant, its supplies and utilities, and its employees. If the suppliers and utility providers and workers are within the community, they in turn spend the money they get from that restaurant, and that spending provides more jobs and more taxes. The arts have the highest dollar multiplier of any kind of spending within a community. The money spent at Buffalo's Studio Arena, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Market Arcade or at any of the theaters or concert venues comes back again and again.
Casino spending, on the other hand, has the lowest multiplier effect of any kind of urban spending. It is money that doesn't stay around, that leaves the community as soon as it is spent. The only direct economic benefit a community gets from a tax-exempt casino is the money made during the initial construction, which is a transient gain for a few in exchange for a long-term loss for the many, and the extra jobs during the transition period when the casino is still in the process of asphyxiating local businesses. Once that startup period passes, it is all negative, except for the owners of the casino, who almost always operate at a profit.
If you need evidence of this, go sometime to Atlantic City, which has a huge gambling operation on the boardwalk. The boardwalk is clean and safe and the casino fronts are shiny. But you take your life in your hands if you walk one block off the boardwalk. You will go by boarded-up stores, broken windows, empty buildings, cheap joints and substandard housing. The casinos on the boardwalk of Atlantic City have done nothing for the rest of that city except drag it further into despair. A casino at the edge of Buffalo's Cobblestone district will do the same for Buffalo: it will destroy for decades the opportunity to create in that space and its environs anything useful and productive.
Local discretionary spending would be vaporized by a Buffalo casino, which would, by design and so as not to compete with the Niagara Falls casino, be almost entirely patronized by locals. Travelers from distant places who come to this region to gamble are going to do it in Niagara Falls, not Buffalo. People who come from a few hours away to gamble in Buffalo will not go outside the casino for anything other than to get in their cars and drive back home. Local people will go to the casino and they'll also get in their cars and go back home.
All local money going into a Buffalo casino would be money not going into bookstores, appliance stores, shops, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, arts organizations and charitable causes. A casino is a building with no clocks and no windows, a building that takes but never gives. This real-life game is zero-sum. There is only so much money in a community like Buffalo; what goes one place is not available to go to another. In cities with casinos in their midst, the money that makes the casino operators rich is money subtracted from everything that would otherwise make the cities vital. That's the way it has worked in every other city that has put a casino in its downtown; that's the way it would work in Buffalo, should the casino effort prove successful.
Ever since Governor George Pataki cut his three-casino deal with the Senecas, a group calling itself Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County (CACGEC) has waged a valiant battle against the politicians who didn't ever bother to look into the consequences of such an operation. CACGEC has invited lecturers, put up an informational web site (http://nocasinoerie.org), and distributed lawn signs opposing the casino.
That set of tactics worked for some of the same people when they fought the proposed move of the Buffalo Zoo from its present location to a new site at the waterfront. But the forces behind the casino are far more determined and well-funded than were the forces proposing moving the zoo. Moving the zoo was an idea; a casino is money—a great deal of money—and people who hope to get a great deal of money are not easily distracted or deflected by lecturers, web sites, or lawn signs.
Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, for example, has been a tireless advocate of the casino. He has attacked critics of a casino in whatever forums he could; he helped underwrite a lawsuit that kept the casino from going to Cheektowaga, he helped underwrite a successful campaign to get rid of Common Council president James Pitts, the only local politician with enough citywide status and personal independence to stand up to Paladino and the mayor on an issue like this one.
So CACGEC never found the traction it sought. It kept the issue alive, and it even hired attorney Richard Lippes to begin a lawsuit to block the casino. But CACGEC was never close to having enough money to fund a real legal challenge to the Buffalo casino.
Then, a few months ago, the trustees of The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation decided this issue was so important to the future of Buffalo they would fund beginning legal actions challenging Secretary of the Interior Norton's decision to let Buffalo land become Seneca sovereign land, and for a casino to be built on that land. For the first time, the people trying to save Buffalo had enough money to stand up to the people trying to sack it. The lawsuit would provide Buffalo's citizens something denied them by Governor Pataki and mayors Masiello and Brown: a chance to have their voices heard.
As a result of the Wendt startup funding, a new organization was formed—Citizens for a Better Buffalo—the sole purpose of which was to gather funds to supplement the Wendt grant and to coordinate whatever legal actions seemed useful (more info on that at www. betterbuffalo.com.) Where CACGEC was opposed to a casino anywhere in Erie County, Citizens for a Better Buffalo is focused specifically on the planned Buffalo casino. CBB's activities are directed by a steering committee, the present members of which are the three Wendt trustees (Janet Day, Tom Lunt and Robert Kresse), Buffalo attorney Dianne Bennett, CACGEC co-chair Mary Bartley, and me. The coordinating counsel for the project is Joseph M. Finnerty of the Buffalo law firm Stenger & Finnerty.
The federal lawsuit
To get the attention of the federal courts you have to show that the harm is done in violation of a specific federal law. It's violation of the law the courts are concerned with, not violation of people. Opposition to this casino has a history that goes back many years to when some local developers first started promoting it, but it was only after the Senecas selected a site and began knocking down buildings that a Buffalo legal action became possible.
The lawsuit filed in federal court by the legal team assembled by Citizens for a Better Buffalo on January 3 is based on the failure of federal officials and agencies to comply with laws that govern the federal approval process for gambling activities on Indian lands acquired after 1988, particularly the Seneca Nation Settlement Act and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. That failure, they say, renders the proposed Seneca Buffalo casino illegal.
The lawsuit says that the defendants—not the Senecas, but rather the Secretary of Interior, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, the United States Department of the Interior, the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Commission's Chairman—got it wrong: nothing in federal law permits an off-reservation casino in the heart of Buffalo, New York.
The plaintiffs are Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County, Rev. G. Stanford Bratton, Coalition against Casino Gambling in New York -- Action, Inc., The National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, The Preservation Coalition of Erie County, Inc., The Campaign for Buffalo, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, and individual residential and commercial property owners adjacent to the casino site.
Secretary of the Interior Norton used the Seneca Settlement Act—written by Amo Houghton and cosponsored by John LaFalce to end the 1990 Salamanca standoff—to justify certifying the downtown purchase as reservation land capable of being a casino site, but both Houghton and LaFalce say that what she did is not in keeping with either the letter or the spirit of the 1990 law. "Clearly," Houghton told Buffalo News reporter Jerry Zremski, "the intent was not to provide the tribe with the ability to throw casinos all over the place."
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988) controls casinos on Indian land. It prohibits casinos on land acquired after October 17, 1988, but allows them on land acquired through land-claim settlements. This, the casino opponents say, is where Norton went wrong: the land the Senecas bought in downtown Buffalo was a straight purchase from developer Carl Paladino; it wasn't acquired though a land claim settlement and it doesn't qualify for any of the exceptions to that requirement. Therefore, they claim, it is ineligible to have a casino.
Cataracts in the
A similar lawsuit could have been filed in Niagara Falls, but that city was in such desperate straits no one there was asking any questions about anything or examining the long-term costs of the promised short-term riches. No one challenged the transfer and conversion of ordinary land to land that would be part of a sovereign nation.
Early on, the casino developers said they had no plans to build hotels and bars in Niagara Falls that would compete with local hotels and bars. But once the land became sovereign territory—land on which they no longer had to ask anyone's permission for anything—they changed their mind. They built a big new hotel and nice bars and restaurants so the gamblers would be able to drive into the casino's parking lot and never have to go outside again until they were heading home.
Now that many local businesses are beginning collapse as a result, some Niagara Falls residents are having second thoughts about Pataki's compact, but it isn't clear what recourse they have. It may be too late for Niagara Falls to take the good hard look at Pataki's gift horse they should have taken three years ago; it isn't too late for Buffalo.
The twin span
and the casino
The Buffalo News has editorialized that the casino Governor George Pataki and the Senecas want to build in the heart of Buffalo is a done deal, so Buffalo folks should just come to terms with the rape of their city and try to get the most they can out of it. That is exactly the same advice the Buffalo News offered seven years ago when it said the ugly and anachronistic steel twin span the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority said it was going to put up alongside the Peace Bridge was all the citizens of Buffalo were going to get, so they should make the best of that lousy design. Both times, instead of saying "Fight for what's right" the Buffalo News counseled, "Live with it."
Both times, small groups of people meeting in private sought to impose on Buffalo public works projects that would have done the city great harm. The steel twin span suffered not only anachronistic design, but would have occasioned a huge increase in truck traffic through populated sections of the city, pounding the city's roadways and polluting the city's air without addressing the real need, which was an expanded plaza that would have gotten rid of the bottleneck. A downtown casino would also occasion a huge increase in traffic in the downtown area, a problem no local politician has yet addressed. As with the casino, nearly all the profits from the bridge expansion would have gone elsewhere, and the city would have borne the costs of increased health problems and weakened infrastructure.
The current legal action sponsored by Citizens for a Better Buffalo, like the Peace Bridge lawsuit, seeks to force public officials to obey the law, which they haven't bothered to do thus far. Quite the contrary. As former Congressman John LaFalce has pointed out, everyone involved in the proposed casino has done everything possible to avoid following the applicable federal law.
"Enough with the
Those trying to silence opposition to the Seneca casino have thus far taken four primary tacks, all of them deceptive.
First, they try to say all the opponents are interested in preserving the grain silos. They turn it all opposition into preservationist silly-putty. Not true. The casino opponents are in this fight for a wide spectrum of reasons, ranging from the harm a casino would do to the entire waterfront area, to the crushing harm it would do Buffalo's economy, to the harm it would do to the fabric of the city's social life, to the harm it would do to historic objects and neighborhoods. The opponents to a Buffalo casino inhabit a very big tent.
Second, they say the casino will bring jobs to a city desperately needing jobs. Not true. In the short term there will be an increase in jobs, but then the casino will displace higher-paying local jobs in which workers have environmental and job protections they will not have in the casino. The city will wind up with fewer workers—most of them making less money, all of them having fewer rights—than the city has now. That is what has happened every place else; there is no reason to think things will be different here.
Third, they say opponents of the casino are "obstructionists" who are standing in the way of development in a city that desperately needs it. Not true. The developers' vision of the casino is of a machine that methodically takes money out of the community. They are the obstructionists. The citizens and organizations standing up to their greed are the real developers.
Fourth, they say even if it's a stinker, even if Buffalo is getting screwed by the developers and by the casino, there is no point fighting because it's a done deal. Not true. It is not a done deal. It's a bad deal, but it is surely not a done deal. It's not over until it's over, and we're not close to that yet. The bad guys and the quitters and the Buffalo News told us the steel twin span was a "done deal" too But it wasn't: the people fought back and they won. They can win this time too.
As Dianne Bennett put it: "We say to the Governor and the politicians who continue to blindly support this Trojan Horse, enough with fuzzy math. Stop the casino and let our business entrepreneurs continue to develop and re-create our City."
and scared away
No major law firm in the city, nor many smaller law firms, were able to participate in the lawsuit against the Buffalo casino, though lawyers in many of them very much wanted to. They were "conflicted out"—one or more attorneys in each of those firms was working on a Seneca case or for the city or the state, and therefore had a conflict of interest, so no one else in the firm could be involved in a case in which Seneca gambling interests were being challenged. It was the same with every one of the city's larger publicity firms.
I said to one lawyer, "It almost seems that they spread it around just to make sure as many sharp lawyers and PR people as possible couldn't get involved." He shrugged and said, "That's been done before, and it usually works pretty well. It's cheap insurance, if you think about it."
It's not only lawyers and PR people who've been gagged. It is almost impossible to find a Buffalo banker or other businessperson who won't say in private that he or she thinks a downtown casino is a bad deal for Buffalo in nearly every regard, but you'll find no bankers and very few businesspeople going public with that. Why? Some say, "My bank does business with the Senecas. It would be irresponsible to our depositors and stockholders to oppose them." Others say, "They have a lot of friends. We don't want to offend them." Others say, "Read the Buffalo News: it's a done deal. Why make enemies opposing it?"
Every head of a college or university or major cultural institution I've spoken to about this thinks a downtown casino would be disastrous for the city and for their institution. But thus far, none of them is standing up and saying so. "A huge portion of my operating budget comes from Albany," one said to me. "I can't take the risk. I have to protect the institution."
Immediately after Pataki held his dog-and-pony press show in Niagara Falls announcing the compact, the board of Buffalo Place passed a very rare (perhaps first-ever) telephone vote endorsing a downtown casino for Buffalo. That phone ballot, done at the urging of Carl Paladino and Mayor Masiello, took place before anyone had given any thought to the overall impact of such an enterprise. In the intervening three years some members of the board have had cause to reconsider their hasty vote, taken without discussion or information, so early last fall they decided to reverse themselves and to oppose the casino. But, at the urging of Paladino and the mayor, the vote was postponed. Then it was tabled for a month. Then it was tabled indefinitely.
"We're never going to vote on it," one member said. "What's the point? Who wants to go against the mayor and Carl? And it's a done deal, isn't it?"
The lawsuit organized by Citizens for a Better Buffalo blew the lid off that "done deal" urban legend and for the first time gave Buffalonians a chance to have their voices heard in a forum that might make a difference. As a result of that lawsuit, and the extensive national publicity it has received, more and more people are joining up or coming out of the closet. Who knows, perhaps after a while even the Buffalo News editorial board will begin to get it right.
The most famous t-shirt ever to come out of Buffalo is Michael Morgulis's "Buffalo—City of No Illusions." It is based on a notion so many of us cherish about this city that takes one body blow after another, but keeps on plugging, keeps on keeping on, keeps on being the gritty great place, etc., etc., blah blah blah.
The only problem is, Michael Morgulis's wonderful t-shirt is dead wrong: Buffalo is a city asphyxiating on illusions, and it long has. Think of all the big-promise shoot-yourself-in-the-foot blunders that mutilated and crippled the Buffalo in which we live and work, like the Kensington Expressway (which destroyed viable neighborhoods and facilitated and accelerated white flight to the suburbs), the downtown extension of the Thruway (which perfectly cut the city off from its waterfront, its most important natural asset), the expanded Peace Bridge plaza (which made Front Park, the crown jewel of Olmsted's Buffalo park and parkway system, inaccessible to all but the most intrepid or drunk), moving UB to the suburbs (which shifted a huge middle class and youth population, and all the stores and shops and other enterprises people like that support, out of town) and the rapid transit system (which never went where it was supposed to go and, on its way to nowhere, murdered Main Street).
You can probably think of more. Anyone who has been around here for long can probably think of more. Most, but not all of those planning disasters, were a matter of local choice. A few, like the decision to move UB to Amherst, weren't made by Buffalo city officials, but city officials didn't make a peep while it was taking place. They were bought off, confused, indifferent, unenlightened, naive. For whatever reason, again and again they failed us. Just as our local officials are failing us now.
Perhaps a more appropriate t-shirt slogan would be "Buffalo—City of nice folks who want to believe the best while incompetent or deluded or bought-and-paid-for politicians roll over for a few gonifs running scams so improbable you can't believe they're scams, but they are, and that's why time and again the city's nice folks get screwed."
But that wouldn't fit on a t-shirt.
And that doesn't account for the parts of Buffalo that work, the parts that haven't let themselves be sold out or betrayed or lost because of failure of imagination or will or energy or caring.
So how about this for a t-shirt, a bumper sticker, a billboard, a fact: "No casino. Not now. Not ever."
Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at UB. He edits the Web journal BuffaloReport.com. For more of his articles on the Buffalo casino, as well as links to other reports and documents, visit http://buffaloreport.com/casinoarticles.html.
To respond to this article e-mail editorial@@artvoice.com
I'm not an expert on the Buffalo situation, but I recognize stereotypes when I see them:
>> Moneysuckers <<
Stereotype-to-English translation: "Moneysuckers" = business owners.
>> Some people want to build a gambling joint in downtown Buffalo. <<
Stereotype-to-English translation: "Gambling joint" = professionally-run, corruption-free casino.
>> Not only would a casino drain money from a city climbing back from the fiscal edge and result in a net loss of jobs <<
Most casinos create jobs, so this claim is unlikely to be true.
>> Current estimates put Buffalo and Erie County's share at $5 to $7 million a year, which won't come close to compensating the city for huge amount of money the casino will deflect from taxpaying businesses <<
Then these counties should negotiate a greater share of the revenue. The money is there. It's not the Senecas' fault if New York state is hoarding the money rather than sharing it with the counties.
>> they'd suffer too when those jobs end, the casino's drain kicks in, and the area's economy goes into inevitable decline and less and less new construction is started. <<
No other community that I know of has gone into an "inevitable decline" after allowing a casino. This is a scare tactic on Jackson's part.
>> Since it would be a Seneca Indian casino on land newly converted by US government fiat to be reservation land <<
Stereotype-to-English translation: "US government fiat" = democratically made decision by conservative Bush administration.
>> If they set up a whorehouse, that will be tax-exempt too. <<
If Bill Gates set up a whorehouse, it wouldn't be tax-exempt. But since that isn't going to happen, it's irrelevant and not worth mentioning. This is another blatant scare tactic on Jackson's part.
>> How can hotels that pay a bed tax and stores and other operations that pay a sales tax compete? <<
They can trade their land to the government for a few meager benefits, suffer miserably for a century or two, and then seek the legalization of casinos to give them a chance for prosperity. If that sounds like a good deal, go for it.
>> If you take a job in a Seneca casino as a waiter, croupier, janitor, musician, bartender, porter, then you breathe the smoke. <<
Then don't take a job there.
>> New York historic preservation laws do not apply to tribal governments. <<
New York had plenty of time to enforce its historic preservation laws when the developer owned the land. That it didn't isn't the Senecas' fault.
>> the site is now sovereign territory—a place where very few, if any, New York State laws apply. <<
But where plenty of federal laws apply.
>> Indian nations are exempt from all of that. <<
The states bordering New York are exempt from New York's laws even if their actions effect New York's citizens. Same with Indian nations.
>> But why would Masiello and Brown dress up and grin into a lens at a site of current destruction and future exploitation? <<
Stereotype-to-English translation: "Future exploitation" = the way any business operates under our capitalist system.
>> Judy Einach: The casino is expected to take away from our local economy out of our pockets $150 million in the first year. <<
This statistic is ridiculous. If the Senecas earn that much, they won't put it under a mattress. They'll spend it in Buffalo, on their reservation 30 miles away, or in the surrounding area. The money will circulate and thus return to the area residents.
>> And in exchange for that, the thousand jobs may bring in $25 million and we may get $7 million to compensate us for the services we have to provide. <<
The experience of nearby casinos casts doubt on these statistics. As John Mohawk wrote in Indian Country Today (5/5/06):
If it were as dire as portrayed, there would be nightly reports of victims from Niagara Falls, where a world-class Seneca Niagara Casino provides a lot of jobs and entices a lot of tourists.
The government of Ontario, five minutes across the bridge, also has an aggressive gaming program, which includes high-stakes bingo and the huge, glamorous Casino Niagara at Niagara Falls, and other casinos as well. Some people say that Buffalo-area residents are spending $100 million annually in Canada and that perhaps $60 million of that would stay in New York if there was a casino in Buffalo.
>> George Pataki's 2002 casino compact with the Senecas was a way to get around New York law, a way to do what the state's constitution says may not be done. <<
Federal law trumps state law when it comes to gaming or any other subject. It's in the Constitution; you could look it up.
>> Casino spending, on the other hand, has the lowest multiplier effect of any kind of urban spending. <<
I've never heard this claim from any other source. Does it come from somewhere, or did Jackson make it up?
>> If you need evidence of this, go sometime to Atlantic City, which has a huge gambling operation on the boardwalk. <<
No, go to Las Vegas, which is booming by almost every measure because of its gaming-based economy.
>> People who come from a few hours away to gamble in Buffalo will not go outside the casino for anything other than to get in their cars and drive back home. <<
This is speculation, not fact.
>> In cities with casinos in their midst, the money that makes the casino operators rich is money subtracted from everything that would otherwise make the cities vital. That's the way it has worked in every other city that has put a casino in its downtown <<
Well, we know that's not true in Las Vegas, which has the biggest concentration of casinos in the midst of a city. I'd love to see the statistics for other cities with casinos, but I suspect they don't exist.
>> The city will wind up with fewer workers—most of them making less money, all of them having fewer rights—than the city has now. That is what has happened every place else; there is no reason to think things will be different here. <<
Again, where's the evidence? This sounds like a made-up statistic to me.
>> Perhaps a more appropriate t-shirt slogan would be "Buffalo—City of nice folks who want to believe the best while incompetent or deluded or bought-and-paid-for politicians roll over for a few gonifs running scams so improbable you can't believe they're scams, but they are, and that's why time and again the city's nice folks get screwed." <<
Stereotype-to-English translation: "Gonifs running scams" = Indians obeying the law.
The negative side of gaming?
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