Seneca Nation Unveils Re-Designed $130 Million Buffalo Creek Casino


New Casino Will Be Part of Revitalized City Waterfront

The Seneca Nation of Indians has announced plans to move ahead with a re-designed $130 million casino in Buffalo’s waterfront district after a three-year pause on the project because of the economic recession.

The new Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino will be built on 9.5 acres of the Nation’s sovereign territory, replacing an existing temporary building that has offered slots-only gaming since 2007. The new gaming facility is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2013 and is expected to provide approximately 600 construction-period jobs. Once completed, the new casino will provide 500 direct jobs, including inside jobs and others related to the operation, with a multiplier effect that will create another 500 jobs over time, Seneca officials said. The new casino will be a vital presence in the city’s old industrial waterfront area, which is in the process of revitalization.

Officials from the Seneca Nation and the Seneca Gaming Corp. talked about the project at a press conference March 27 at the temporary casino’s parking lot where the new casino plans were unveiled. “This new casino will be a national design leader for casinos in urban settings,” Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter said in a prepared statement. “Our investment in this facility is our stake in our partnership with Buffalo’s Inner Harbor, the rejuvenation of the Perry Choice Neighborhood, and growth in the Old First Ward and along the Buffalo River. We are all in this together and we will succeed through collaboration.”

Porter explained that the Nation has gone to great lengths to communicate with all the stakeholders. “We sat down with and listened to people representing the locations and institutions that surround us today. We talked to waterfront officials, HSBC representatives, leaders from South Buffalo and the Old First Ward, executives from the Bisons, the Buffalo News, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and Buffalo Niagara Enterprise. We heard from the Oishei Foundation, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, Erie County and of course the City of Buffalo,” Porter said. “It means that when this casino opens next summer it will blend and merge with what surrounds it.”

Earlier this year, Seneca Gaming Corp. announced that it had hired the Memphis-based Hnedak Bobo Group, an award-winning architecture and design firm, to create plans for the newly envisioned gaming facility. Construction on the old casino stopped in 2008 when the economy began to fail. Opened in 2007, the current temporary Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino underwent two expansion projects, in 2008 and 2010. The casino has 457 slot machines and attracts more than 750,000 visitors a year, making it one of downtown Buffalo’s most popular destinations. Workers have already started dismantling its steel frame, which will be recycled and used to build the new casino. The dismantling process is expected to take about six weeks and yield around 340 tons of steel to be re-used. Construction of the new casino is expected to start in the summer.

Seneca site plan (Courtesy of the Seneca Nation of Indians)

Seneca site plan (Courtesy of the Seneca Nation of Indians)

Karen Karsten, chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp. board of directors, said the Nation is focused on the future. “Dismantling the existing steel structure not only clears the site so our new vision can take shape, it opens the door to a modern concept designed to generate a prudent business model for downtown Buffalo,” Karsten said. “As we move forward, we are excited by the investments being made, by ourselves and by many others, to create an exciting destination atmosphere in the Inner Harbor and Buffalo River areas.”

The Nation will help move the revitalization forward. In February the Seneca Buffalo Creek Development Advisory Board announced it had developed a $1 million grant program for projects designed to boost infrastructure, landscaping, lighting and signage in areas around the downtown Buffalo casino. Grant applications for those improvements are due March 31 and awards are expected to be announced in late April.

Earlier this month one of two lawsuits involving the Seneca Nation’s Buffalo Creek Casino was eliminated. U.S. District Court Judge William M. Skretny dismissed an action filed against the federal government by Daniel Warren, who claimed, among other things, that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was unconstitutional and the Nation’s gaming compact with the state was invalid. The judge said the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the claims and that the Nation and Seneca Gaming Corp. have sovereign immunity from this sort of lawsuit.

A lawsuit filed by anti-Indian gaming group Citizens Against Casino Gambling against the National Indian Gaming Commission is pending in federal court.