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The Seneca Nation appears very serious about putting a casino in Henrietta. The tribe spent $2.7 million to acquire 32 acres on Clay Rd. It’s a heavily-traveled area surrounded by chain hotels, chain restaurants and chain stores. It’s right off the Thruway.

The Senecas no doubt want to expand at the same time the state is allowing up to seven non-Indian casinos. One of them could be on their doorstep. Tom Wilmot, the Wilmorite mall magnate, wants to put one just over the Route 14 line in Tyre, Seneca County. Other developers want to open casinos in the Southern Tier. This is all too close for comfort for the Senecas.

The Senecas have to act now or risk losing a slice of the Rochester pie they share with the Oneidas’ Turning Stone.

Here are some questions:


Seneca Allegany Casino

1. What would a Henrietta casino look like? It’s highly doubtful this will be some giant Vegas-style gambling palace. In the land of the Henrietta big boxes, this will likely be a big box, with a hotel on top, surrounded by a garage or parking lot. That’s what the Senecas build, though they dress up the boxes with nice lights. 

2. How will existing hotels be affected? There are a lot of hotels already along Jefferson Rd. Double Tree and the RIT Inn and Conference Center have banquet and meeting facilities. Their occupants pay sales and room taxes, while the Seneca guests do not.

3. How will existing restaurants be affected? Casinos are designed to get you in the door and keep you there. No sales taxes and free booze are enticements. Casino proponents talk about choice and free enterprise. But it’s important to note tribal casinos do not play by the same rules as everyone else.

4. How will Marketplace Mall be affected? Keep in mind that Monroe County and Henrietta taxpayers are already in deep with tax breaks to the mall. Local homeowners are paying more in taxes so the mall can succeed. Will a casino mess things up? The Senecas say they want retail at the casino. One thing to remember about casinos is that when one opens up, we don’t suddenly have more money to spend. (On a side note, I mentioned above that the Senecas are playing defense with Wilmorite, which owns Marketplace. One could say a Henrietta casino means war.)

5. What will the Senecas pay Monroe County and the Town of Henrietta? How will the payments be used? Will town and county residents see their property taxes go down when the casino opens? (Name one municipality where that happened.) Will there be a clause that forbids the Senecas from withholding payments from local governments the next time they get into a tiff with the state? (That happened to Niagara Falls.)

6. Will Henrietta residents get a say? A majority of residents voted down the statewide casino expansion referendum in November.

7. Will there be addiction services funded for problem gamblers? Casino supporters say people are already gambling, so a casino is a natural thing to open. But the fact is, we don’t have a full-fledged casino in Rochester. You have to drive at least an hour to get to one. That’s a huge deterrent. What was once a destination is now in your backyard. Yes, people should take responsibility for their own gambling problems, but you and I will pay for their problems when they end up broke or worse.

8. What will the casino jobs pay? How do we know the the casino jobs would not have happened anyway? People only have so much money to spend. If you’re just shifting existing business to the casino, you’re shifting jobs. If you’re stifling potential new businesses from opening, then the casino jobs would have been created anyway.

9. Where are the gamblers going to come from? In order for the Henrietta casino to be a true job creator, it would need to draw in substantial numbers of people from outside the area. Buffalonians have Seneca Niagara. Syracusans have Turning Stone.  I’d love to see a market study. I bet it shows a majority of gamblers will come from Monroe, Ontario and Livingston counties.  Rochester casino is meant to capture the Rochester dollar. If this casino is a true tourist spot, it would not be located in the land of WalMart. I don’t know many out-of-towners who want to plan a day trip to Henrietta. You think they’ll take a break from the slots and drive 20 minutes to the George Eastman House and then to catch a show at the Auditorium? Riiiiiiggght. The only “tourists” will be people needing to stretch their legs during a trip down the Thruway heading someplace else.

10. Will neighboring businesses be helped by a casino? If we’re going to ask whether they’ll be hurt, we should ask if they’ll be helped. Take us to Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo and introduce us to all the businesses that benefited. Show us all the development. Show us the fruits of a casino.

This is all far from a done deal. A casino can’t open without New York renegotiating the Seneca compact. The agreement allows the tribe to be the sole casino operator west of Route 14, but it only allows three casinos. The Senecas already have three casinos. The governor said negotiations haven’t even started.

Despite the long road ahead, there does seem to be some inevitability to casinos opening up everywhere. People like to gamble. Cash-strapped states and town see dollar signs. The unemployed see jobs. But let’s make sure we see everything else, too.


I will be on Connections with Evan Dawson on WXXI Tuesday from 1 to 2 p.m. to discuss casinos.




Here is a story on emails and documents I obtained from the city through FOIL on the hiring of the mayor’s uncle as her bodyguard. There’s no smoking gun, but the emails show the city bent over backward to make sure he got this job, even when presented with alternatives and drawbacks.

23 Responses to 10 Questions About Henrietta Casino

  1. I think you hit it right on the money. I don’t think people put a lot of thought into the consequences of what a casino brings. Most see dollar signs for community. Henrietta is not a “destination” like Vegas or Niagara Falls (sort of). It will be local money going into the casino at the expense of local hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.

  2. March 4, 2014 at 7:51 am Animule responds:

    You forgot question #11, Rachel. Does the Wilmot Casino & Resort to be based in the metropolis of Tyre in Seneca County do one positive thing for taxpayers in Monroe County? What percentage of the projected “9,000 daily visitors” to this casino are expected to come from Monroe County (my guess would be over 95%)?

  3. If memory serves me right, back in the 70’s when Hugh Carey was Governor of New York, he investigated all the aspects of bringing casino gambling to this state. He attended a conference in Atlantic City and after returning he stepped off the plane and remarked he “Would never let that happen to New York State”. To this day, if you venture two blocks off the boardwalk in Atlantic City, you would swear you were in Beirut after a missile attack.

  4. March 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm SarahJ responds:

    If either the Seneca or Wilmot casino is built it will almost immediately put both Finger Lakes Race Track and Batavia Downs completely out of business. The only way those tracks have stayed in play is with the added income from their Racino gaming parlours. How many jockeys, trainers, stable hands, veterinarians, etc. will be put out of business as well as the servers, cooks, and gambling agents? A Monroe or adjacent county casino will be a zero sum gain.

  5. I don’t understand all the fuss. If a PRIVATE business wants to expand into our area with their funds, how does that effect me or anyone else? Those people who like casino’s will go. Those who don’t, won’t go. The “what if’s” that are listed here could apply to anything and everything. As for what benefit will it have for the people of Henrietta…..the question should really be what, if any, is the detriment? Will local businesses be hurt….I doubt it. I know when I visit a casino, about once or twice a year, I mostly see older people and surprisingly many Asians. I don’t see many young people or people with families. As for taxes…..how much is that property paying in taxes now? This certainly seems to be a volatile issue with the media and the activists, but is it really an issue for the average person? For me, I hope it becomes reality. I won’t have to drive to Niagara Falls. Just my thoughts….

    • March 4, 2014 at 2:13 pm Andrew Zibuck responds:

      Great reply OAJ. My question is, where would they put a casino in Henrietta. Wait, is that in the article?

  6. Referring to question 7, I’ve heard you on Wease before, and it sounds as if you may want to talk to your own Mother about gambling addiction, as it sounds like she’s a fan of the cards. That show was actually pretty hilarious. Also, is Bill Johnson getting paid by someone, or some organization to oppose the casino?

  7. March 4, 2014 at 10:42 pm Jim Mayer responds:

    Casinos seem to promise big, but deliver little. I really don’t see Henrietta drawing many visitors from outside the local area, so this is just a big vaccum cleaner door local dollars… And the bag won’t get emptied at home either!

  8. March 5, 2014 at 8:21 am Tom Vierhile responds:

    Rachel, your interview with Bill Johnson and Evan Dawson missed some key points. The first is to ask Mr. Johnson how much No More Casinos is paying him as he strikes an unusual position that gambling in and of itself is “bad” and detrimental to economic activity, but gambling at existing “racinos” at Finger Lakes and Batavia is okay. The second is that if casinos are so bad (and Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack is basically a casino, minus the blackjack tables), then why has there been a recent burst of economic development in Farmington? Less than two miles from the “racino” you have a new restaurant (literally walking distance from Finger Lakes – in the building where Shooters Sports Bar & Grill used to be), a new CVS drug store, a new Family Dollar store and a new family dentistry building. These recent developments gut Johnson’s argument that financial Armageddon would strike if a casino as constructed in Henrietta. The facts on the ground in Farmington negate much of what Johnson said, and are more germane to the argument than Niagara Falls is, given the latter has been a financial basket case for more than a generation.

    • March 5, 2014 at 8:47 pm Nikki responds:

      Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack is not Seneca owned… completely different tax implications for Farmington vs. Henrietta.

    • March 6, 2014 at 3:04 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Johnson said he is not being paid by anyone.

      You’re seriously trying to say a Family Dollar and a drug store is evidence of casino wealth helping the area?

      • March 7, 2014 at 12:36 am Tom Vierhile responds:

        I understand that it is fashionable for the Ivy League educated class to look down on something like Family Dollar, a store that provides badly needed price competition in a middle and working class community a good 10 miles or so from the nearest Tops or Wegmans. My point is that Johnson’s claim that a casino will devastate the local economy is not borne out by what has happened in Farmington. A Henrietta casino is likely to create hundreds of new jobs for Rochester workers. A casino located elsewhere is not. The tax issue is a moot point given the usual property tax abatements that are given to anyone who can fog a mirror. The Rochester area is no longer so flush that it can tell an investor willing to spend millions of their own money to go pound salt. And Johnson’s track record on the Fast Ferry and High Falls is its own commentary on his ability to spot a “business opportunity.”

  9. March 5, 2014 at 11:42 am Dwight E Wascom responds:

    Why do you think that, according to a recent FBI report, Nevada is the second highest State for crime per capita?

  10. March 5, 2014 at 11:57 am Orielly responds:

    Yes it is funny. Lots of concerns about local business impact (hotels, restaurants etc) with a Casino about to be approved.

    Yet when a Mall or big box store goes in, not so much concern. Nor when Wegmans wants to sell wine. Then we hear its a free market and business has to survive on its own.

    Some people will use any excuse to oppose something, when their real objection is hidden.

    If you don’t approve of gambling, or drinking Alcohol or a casino, why not just say it? Because if you do, that raises questions about an individual’s rights and that objection has no defense.

    And there are some real large, high end beautiful hotels “off main street” in Atlantic City, and they are building more. Governor Carey was wrong.

  11. If the Seneca’s are going to go around the local government and, it’s just going to be forced upon the community due to the way the law is written.

    Why not find a way to have them locate it in Farmington next to the Finger Lakes Gaming and race track, or even Batavia Downs out in Batavia.

    This way the jobs that are lost and gained are contained within the existing immediate casino community. And the risk of a casino hurting existing retail, restaurants and hotels is minimized.

  12. March 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm billd responds:

    Have you seen Salamanca recently? Its no longer a crap hole. Now its a crap hole with a casino.

  13. March 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm Booored...man...street responds:

    “And there are some real large, high end beautiful hotels “off main street” in Atlantic City, and they are building more. Governor Carey was wrong.”
    I don’t know what Atlantic City you’ve been to. I went there last Labor Day and stayed in the Borgata, which is on the backside of the island. The space between there and the beachfront casinos is just a piece of sh*t wasteland.

  14. March 5, 2014 at 3:39 pm Orielly responds:

    I guess it depends on your perspective.

    My view looked out on a large marsh area on one side and a beautiful harbor / docks full of very large yachts on the other side. Past that was wide view of the ocean with beautiful sunrises. Directly below was a large blue pool with lots of bikinis on display during the day time.

    Since Governor Carey made his observation /prediction Donald Trump has converted / made two properties and the Borgata and Harrahs have been built as well, more are in the works.

    IF that looks like “Beirut after a missile attack” or a piece of … to you …. let me know. It wouldn’t to 99.99 percent of most people.

  15. March 5, 2014 at 4:45 pm Richard Taromino responds:

    First off why are people comparing Henrietta with Atlantic city? I just don’t see the area going down hill because of one casino. I don’t think that there would be more than one casino built in this area so no comparison! Second we go to casinos often and usually go eat outside of the casino as well as visit and buy at surround shops. I for one would not mind a 15 minute drive to go play poker for a while and make a nice day trip of entertainment rather than spending 4 hours traveling time in a car.

  16. March 10, 2014 at 12:35 pm Booored...man...street responds:

    “My view looked out on a large marsh area on one side and a beautiful harbor / docks full of very large yachts on the other side. Past that was wide view of the ocean with beautiful sunrises. Directly below was a large blue pool with lots of bikinis on display during the day time”
    You have to look downwards, at the actual land between the Borgata and the beach.

  17. March 14, 2014 at 5:09 pm dew4794 responds:

    The Senacas are asking to build a Casino Complex. Should they be the folks who build the Casino? They have an antagonistic history with New Yorkers. They protested the tax enforcement on their cigarettes by rolling tires onto the Expressway. They sued to take back Grand Island. They insist on being a sovereign nation to avoid taxes and certain regulations. And finally, when they bought the acreage in Henrietta, the town supervisor complained he didn’t have a proposal, didn’t know. And then the Senecas played victim and complained that they didn’t have a chance to make their case to the people, after a hugh gathering of town’s people protested their casino at the Town Board. We don’t need an more antagonism.

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