Commenting on the fact that Jim Pitts raised red flags on Adelphia and can now say, "I told you so, " Sam Hoyt claims he will unfortunately have the same dubious privilege if the Buffalo Seneca gaming deal is effected.
Hoyt thinks the deal will happen, yet hopes that he may still have some success in getting people to oppose it, just as he did when the "moving Children’s hospital" debate was raging.
"I’ve never been a fence sitter," said Hoyt, "And while the jury is still out on Children Hospital, I argued early that closing the hospital was bad for the community. The biggest impact I had in that discussion was to reverse the conventional wisdom that it was already a done deal. People were resigned to the fact that it was going to happen and getting involved was an exercise in futility." But as matter of public record, Hoyt convinced a lot of people that that was inaccurate and ultimately generated a groundswell of support for keeping Children’s on Bryant Street.
He was successful.
Hoyt also has been a consistent opponent of gaming for Buffalo in general and specifically the absurd Seneca pact. His arguments are compelling, but even Hoyt is not confident that anything can be done to stop this grandiose giveaway to the Senecas.
Hoyt may wind up a lot like Pitts, with only the unsatisfactory prospect of telling Buffalo "I told you so."
"It isn’t going to work for Buffalo," Hoyt declared emphatically. "With the minimal amount of the proceeds going to the city, and with the well known track record of casinos not having an economic spinoff for the host community, my fear is that it will have a substantial negative spinoff."
When the plan was first announced, there was euphoria, Hoyt admitted: 3000 promised jobs in a desperate city, a new industry in town; it sounded too good to be true. Hoyt said "it is, of course."
As time progresses, Hoyt said " more and more people are realizing that a sovereign nation is going to plunk itself down in the middle of downtown Buffalo and that Buffalo will have no authority to control what takes place on that property, very little oversight, and no control over the expansion of that property."
Hoyt said the Seneca’s can buy as much adjacent property as they like and it becomes part of their nation, taking any acquired property off the tax rolls. They may wind up owning a large portion of downtown Buffalo. Hoyt also said that there will be no new money generated by the casino.
"Money that will spent there is currently going somewhere else: the Sabres, The Bills, Sheas, or on people’s gas bills, cable bills, the grocery bill. My fear is that a full scale Las Vegas style casino (as is proposed) in the heart of downtown Buffalo has the potential to destroy some of the great things we have such as the Theater district and the Chippewa entertainment district. These could be dramatically hurt by a full scale Las Vegas type casino - which is essentially a big box with no windows, no clocks, and ATM machines throughout. These are designed to bring people in, take every last penny they have on them, not to mention whatever credit and savings they can usurp, then push them out the door once their last penny is gone."
Hoyt warmed to the topic as he continued. He said the Seneca compact has "all sorts of holes"
Among the most disturbing are:
1. After the 14 year initial contract is up there is no provision specified that NYS will continue to receive any compensation at all.
"The Senecas cannot be evicted once the land is given over to them, "Hoyt said. "It is theirs perpetually. If they chose to no longer operate the casino they can stop at any time. True if the State’s cut isn’t satisfactory, after 1 4 years, the state could say we will no longer approve gaming, but the Senecas in turn may find it more profitable to simply sell tax free products etc.
2. Downtown stores may be devastated by the Pataki- Seneca giveaway. Some merchants have already expressed concern about tobacco, alcohol and gasoline sales - items where NY piles on taxes and ones which Senecas can legally sell on their nation in downtown Buffalo tax free.
"For the first time we will have tax free gasoline, cigarettes and alcohol in Downtown Buffalo, and the competing stores will be hurt. A nation of Indians in downtown Buffalo has a great opportunity for profit on other items as well. Why wouldn’t they sell any other product?" Hoyt asked. "They automatically have an 8% sales tax advantage on anything they want to sell and there is no provision in the compact that prohibits them from setting up stores and selling anything: cars, clothes, anything. At 8% savings the sale of a new $20,000 car is maybe $1,600 cheaper. Indeed they might be able to undersell every downtown merchant. And the loss of tax revenue might rival the gain in gaming revenue. Especially if the Buffalo casino is less then a stellar tourist draw.
3. And Hoyt thinks it won’t draw tourists - only siphon money away from locals. Hoyt admits that possibly 20 years ago the idea might have worked, but it is too late now. There were only casinos then in Nevada and New Jersey. "Today there is a over-saturation of casinos across North America. Within a 500 mile radius, an area where we can expect to draw people to the region, there is, or will be, one casino just outside of Toronto, ultimately three in Niagara falls, one in Onieda, in central NY, three in WNY, Cattaruagus county and three in the Catskills, as well as Connecticut and NJ. Now I love my city but who, other than people in the immediate area, will bypass these other areas and come to Buffalo?"
Finally, Hoyt explained why such a horrible sounding and utterly foolish deal might pass muster.
"The most significant hidden agenda is that George Pataki is looking for a win or two in upstate NY. There isn’t much to show for his eight years in office as far as WNY is concerned. He’s looking for a victory here so he can point to accomplishment in WNY. Secondly there are a few connected developers who will make bundles on this deal. Gary Buchiet, for instance, who owns the Statler, would be a partner with the Senecas if it ends up on his site. Delaware North is interested in developing the casino. Several Republican contributors can become rich."
That should be enough in anybody’s book to sell out a city.