It was bad for the goose – ordinary Americans.
Why was it good for Seneca?
Why, instead of American, do we have a “Native-American” casino in Niagara Falls? Why does a “Sovereign Nation” make more than $300 million annually, while we struggle to keep our libraries open and our children from leaving WNY?
Consider: In three years, $9 million for Niagara Falls; $200 million for Albany; $1 billion for the Seneca Nation.
True, Albany ruled: gambling is evil; its profits are predicated on losses of others – oftentimes from foolish, the temporarily insane - but otherwise hardworking people – who ruin their families and put society in jeopardy -- believing in dumb luck. Gambling, since 1821, has been banned by state constitution. But -- it’s fine for Seneca to profit.
This illustrates Albany perfectly: In 1995, Governor George Pataki championed that casinos could make money -- for Albany. Our Albany Senate passed a bill to vote to amend the state constitution to legalize gambling. It was debated in the Assembly and Senate. It seemed certain to pass but ultimately failed.
It failed partly because studies showed casinos increase pathological gambling, which, in turn, causes 22% of addicts to divorce, 40% to lose jobs, 49% to steal, 23% to descend to alcoholism, 20% to attempt suicide. It partly failed because Albany Democrats did not want the Republican Pataki to have a legislative achievement. And it failed partly because that pompously intrepidly erstwhile casino owner, cum character actor, Donald Trump, and other casino owners in Atlantic City, employed Albany lobbyists to legally bribe/persuade pivotal lawmakers (Democrat and Republican) to vote against casinos in NY.
“Gambling is a tawdry, sleazy business,” Trump’s generous lobbyists said. And, by chance, some Albany lawmakers, who formerly supported gaming, suddenly, mysteriously changed their minds. Politics is a tawdry, sleazy business.
Unable to make gambling legal, Pataki gave to a tiny, foreign nation, the Seneca Nation of Indians, population 7,300, their own, brand new country in what was once part of downtown Niagara Falls. Americans could go on foreign soil - which used to be American soil - and gamble - constitution or not.
Seneca would get most of the profit – but Albany would get its share. To sell it locally, Pataki claimed it would spur “spin off” development. As “host community,” locals would get 25% of what Albany got. In keeping with tradition, Pataki later decided Albany should keep 100% of the money, informing us that an Albany agency, called USA Niagara, was what he meant by "host community." Locals haven’t seen a dime since 2004.
But locals pay: Besides the fact that land ceded to a foreign nation is tax-free, and items which used to generate sales tax are purchased tax-free in Seneca, locals pay for roads/infrastructure which lead to Seneca and increased criminal justice and social welfare costs. It’s called “transfer of wealth”: Seneca gets wealth; WNY gets poorer. It’s economics 101: If people spend their (finite) money gambling, they do not at restaurants, taverns, sporting events, etc. The nature of gambling is such that people often spend more than planned. Then it comes out of groceries or rent. Statistically, it isn’t tourists, but predominantly locals who bet and lost at Seneca. The result: While Seneca is gleaming, more than two dozen American businesses collapsed. Three hotels closed. The ice skating rink closed. The Convention Center lost. The area adjacent to Seneca plunged deeper into desolation. We’ve only just begun.
Seneca claims "positive impact”: 2,800 jobs created. $200 million in payroll paid in three years. Studies show, however, for every job a casino creates, one (regional) job is lost. The result: Almost a billion in gambling losses came out of local pockets. $250 million in sales and property tax lost. And 2,800 jobs? The majority are near minimum wage. Subtracting 300 top positions – held mainly by Senecas, the average American is making $17,000. At convenience stores, MacDonald’s and casinos, most jobs are, unglamorously, low-wages.
What about “spin-off? The glistening Seneca-Niagara Hotel! This “spin-off” simply “spins” Niagara Falls' hotel business from US hotels “off” to a hotel on Indian Territory. Another “spin-off” is Seneca/Albany’s attempt to seize – by eminent domain - the tax-paying Splash Park - the first time state government is attempting seizing a property owned by Americans –to give to a foreign nation.
Seneca initially got 50 acres. No wonder they want the Splash Park. Adjacent to it is 142 acres owned by an American corporation. If acquired by Seneca, it quadruples the size of their tax-free nation. The Seneca/Albany compact provisions for acquiring adjacent land could give control of Niagara Falls to wealthy Seneca.
Some experts feel the compact is unconstitutional since it was crafted without Federal or local consensus by a capricious state government which historically cheats this part of the state. If we take our land back, we can compensate Seneca by carving 50 acres out of downtown Albany, from Lincoln Park to the Empire State Plaza – and make that Seneca Nation. Albany lawmakers can gamble freely - as they love to do -- but without our money this time.