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City casino gets 49,004 visitors in first month
Annual projection is close to 600,000
By Sharon Linstedt NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Updated: 08/04/07 7:58 AM
The building and the jackpots may be small, but the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino rolled up big numbers in its debut month.
The Seneca Gaming Corp. counted 49,004 visitors walking through the doors of its temporary casino in Buffalo’s Cobblestone District from July 3 to Aug. 1. If those numbers remain constant, the slots-only casino will draw nearly 600,000 people within the year.
That would be more than the 541,169 attendance at the eight Buffalo Bills home games last year and the annual attendance of 391,729 at the Buffalo Zoo, the perennial attendance leader among area cultural institutions.
Only the Buffalo Sabres, with regular season attendance of 766,290, plus another 149,520 in post-season, had a gate count exceeding the 12-month casino projection.
“The initial response we have seen at Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino has been more than encouraging,” said Brian Hansberry, president and CEO of Seneca Gaming Corp. “It shows us that we can be successful with the permanent, world-class project that we have in mind for Buffalo.”
Marjeanne Wallace of Cheektowaga is among those who have put the month-old casino on her “to do” list.
“I come here about once a week,” the recent retiree said. “My friends and I have come in every week since it opened. It’s a lot of fun for our ‘girls afternoon’ outings.”
Bill Winters, a downtown Buffalo bank employee, ventured over to the casino on a recent lunch hour to check out the new attraction. “I don’t think I’ll make it a habit, but it was kind of cool to win a little money on my lunch break,” Winters said.
Richard Geiger, president of the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the early drawing power of the temporary casino “impressive,” but said the numbers alone don’t put it in the category of a tourist magnet.
“From a tourism perspective, the key is who is going through their doors. My guess is that it’s primarily local residents who are spending their money and going home,” Geiger said. “It isn’t spinning off to room nights, meals and other spending to any great degree.”
Tony Pendergast, owner of Milo’s, a small restaurant at 126 Michigan Ave. across the street from the casino site, agrees with that assessment. He had hoped for hungry gamblers, but that hasn’t happened.
“We get a few people, but nothing significant,” Pendergast said. “They spend whatever they spend over there, get back in their cars and zoom out of here.”
Another Cobblestone District restaurateur is having better luck with the casino crowd. Dennis Brinkworth III, owner of W.J. Morrissey’s Irish pub and eatery, says as many as 10 percent of his customers also are going to the casino.
“I’m not that into casinos myself, but I like having it there for selfish business reasons,” Brinkworth said.
He said he expects even greater benefits to having a casino as a neighbor if Seneca Gaming moves ahead with plans to build a $125 million gambling and entertainment complex.
“I look across the way and think about the thousands of people who will be coming down here. It can only be good for Cobblestone,” Brinkworth added.
Casino opponents dismiss the early attendance numbers as irrelevant to their continuing legal battle to shut down the temporary casino and block construction of a permanent facility.
Dianne Bennett, president of Citizens for a Better Buffalo, a group leading the legal charge against the Seneca Nation of Indians’ right to operate a casino at the city site, said numbers won’t matter to the courts.
“Just because a lot of people go in there, that’s not community acceptance,” she said. “An X-rated bookstore might get a lot of customers, but that doesn’t mean it’s beneficial to the community.”
With hearings on the meat of the citizen group’s suit unlikely to take place until this fall, Seneca Gaming is continuing to plan for its permanent casino. Gaming Chairman Barry E. Snyder said he envisions the development as part of a bigger picture of Inner Harbor redevelopment.
“It’s not about one project. As we have said many times, it’s about how the casino, Bass Pro, HSBC Arena and other projects can bring life and critical mass to a part of the city that needs it,” Snyder said.
The temporary casino is open from 10 a.m. to to 2 a.m. seven days a week. At 5,000 square feet, it offers 124 slot machines, a snack bar and parking for 200 vehicles.
The permanent facility will feature more than 100,000 square feet of gambling floors, with 2,200 slot machines, 50 table games, restaurants, shops and a 2,500-car parking garage.
Full information on activity at Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino won’t be released until November as part of the corporation’s fourth-quarter financial results. However, Seneca Gaming confirmed that opening day, July 3, saw the biggest one-day crowd — 3,790 players. The lowest day count was 1,080.
The biggest jackpot payouts on the penny, nickel and quarter slots to date have been around $1,200.