By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY Three western New York racetracks with video-lottery terminals were officially barred Monday from calling themselves casinos as part of a state gaming compact reached earlier this year with the Seneca Nation of Indians.
Buffalo Raceway, Finger Lakes Race Track and Batavia Downs can no longer market themselves as "casinos," the state Gaming Commission voted Monday.
The state in 2009 allowed the racetracks with the slot-machine-like terminals to call themselves "casinos," even though they can't offer table games. The Senecas, who have three casinos in western New York, protested and withheld aid from the state.
As part of a deal in June between the Senecas and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state agreed the three so-called racinos could not call themselves casinos in ads and promotions. The Senecas in turn paid the state about $400 million of about $630 million it owed.
So Finger Lakes Casino & Racetrack in Farmington, Ontario County, is now Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack. Batavia Downs Casino is now called Batavia Downs Gaming.
Not being able to call themselves casinos will hurt marketing efforts to get new customers, said Michael Kane, the president of Western Regional Off-Track Betting, which runs Batavia Downs. He said the track in recent weeks has stripped the word "casino" off signs and ads; T-shirts, hats and scarves that had the name were sent to charities.
"When you are trying to brand yourself to new customers, I think using the term 'casino' is more valuable," Kane said.
Finger Lakes spokesman Steve Martin said the track has started to change its name. Finger Lakes and Batavia Downs have undergone major expansions in recent months.
"We have been aware this was part of the agreement that the state had come to with the Seneca Nation earlier this year and began making the change several weeks ago in anticipation of its formal adoption," Martin said in a statement.
The Senecas have exclusive gaming rights in western New York, west of Route 14, which runs south from Lake Ontario in Wayne County to the Pennsylvania border. The tribe has casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, Cattaraugus County.
The western New York racetracks are also barred from having electronic table games and using the word "slots" or "slot machines."
New York has nine racetracks with video-lottery terminals. Other tracks aren't affected by the agreement. For example, Yonkers Raceway calls its Empire City Casino and has electronic table games.
A proposition on Tuesday's ballot would allow the state to build up to seven privately owned casinos in New York, with the first four upstate: in the Catskills, Southern Tier and Albany area.