By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY The Seneca Nation of Indians said Tuesday they want to roll the dice on a Rochester-area casino, and they hired a prominent local developer to find a location in a suburb.
The Senecas have long eyed a casino in the Rochester area, and a recent deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo solidified their exclusive gaming rights in western New York - which includes the Rochester area.
The Senecas, which already run three casinos in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area, said they have retained developer David Flaum to organize and coordinate gaming and hospitality development in Henrietta, a southern Monroe County suburb.
The Senecas did not indicate the specific location of the development, but Flaum owns several large properties along Jefferson Road, the busy corridor near the state Thruway and Interstate 390.
"The Seneca Nation is interested in looking for opportunities to grow and complement our gaming operations," Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder said in a statement. "David Flaum and his team have a proven track record and we see this as a good fit."
Flaum has quietly worked for years with the Senecas on landing a casino deal. He once purchased land in the Catskills that he once hoped the Senecas would partner with him to develop into a casino, and he's often talked about trying to get a casino in the Rochester area.
"We are inspired by the commitment and vision the Seneca Nation and its leadership has demonstrated to create business partnerships both on territory and with stakeholders throughout the western New York community to grow our region's economy and create jobs," Flaum said in a statement.
Reached by telephone, Flaum declined to offer more details about the possible casino development, saying only that he's "profoundly grateful" to gain the support of the Senecas. The Seneca Gaming Commission quietly entered into a contract with Flaum earlier this year to explore casino development in the Rochester area.
A Henrietta casino would face a number of hurdles. It would have to garner approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and require an agreement among Cuomo, the tribe and the state Legislature to amend the Senecas' gaming compact -- which now allows them to operate the three existing casinos.
Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, who represents Henrietta, said he hasn't had conversations with the parties about a casino in town. He said there would need to be outreach to the public to see if residents in the town and in the county would support a casino.
"This is breaking news, and we need to hear from the people who live in the town of Henrietta, primarily, and see what their thoughts are about having gaming and hospitality development in that area," Bronson said.
Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks declined comment through a spokesman. The spokesman, Justin Feasel, said Brooks had not had conversations with the developers about the proposal.
The Senecas have exclusive gaming rights west of Route 14, which stretches north from Wayne County and south into the Southern Tier.
In June, Cuomo and the Senecas settled their gaming dispute, with the Senecas' agreeing to give the state about $350 million in back payments. In exchange, the state reiterated that the Senecas have exclusive gaming rights in the region - opening the door for the tribe to move its operations into the Rochester area.
But the proposal comes at a sensitive time for the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking voter approval in November to allow for up to four privately owned casinos to be built in three areas: the Southern Tier, Catskills and Capital region.
Whether Cuomo and the Legislature would back a casino in Rochester could be dependent on whether the casino referendum is successful. If voters approve the casino referendum, Cuomo may want to build those facilities before backing another gambling hall owned by the Senecas.
Cuomo's office declined comment Tuesday.
A decade ago, mall magnate Thomas Wilmot pitched a plan with an out-of-state tribe to build a casino in downtown Rochester. But the deal fell apart because of political backlash and questions about whether an out-of-state tribe would have land rights in the center of the city, the third largest city in the state.
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequiot, said he has had conversations with the Senecas in recent months about a possible casino in the Rochester area. He said he would prefer the city of Rochester to have the first chance to have a casino.
"What I've expressed to them and others is that the city of Rochester should have the first opportunity to look at that," Morelle said.