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NIAGARA FALLS, NY-A week after the State Legislature passed a proposal that would bring Indian-run casino gaming to Western New York and the Catskills in lower New York State, Governor George Pataki signed the bill into law.

Pataki announced the signing at a press conference in Niagara Falls on Wednesday and was scheduled to stage a similar event in Sullivan County at the Sullivan County Legislative Office Building in Monticello in the early evening the same day.

In announcing the bill signing, Governor Pataki says that the Indian casinos will bring much-needed new jobs, private sector investment and enhanced tourism opportunities to both areas of the state. In the case of Western New York, the casinos are expected to provide competition with similar facilities in Niagara Falls, Ontario, which has seen a tremendous amount of redevelopment activity due to the construction of casinos on the Canadian side of the Falls. Sullivan County, a tourist mecca that attracted top-flight entertainers years ago, has also fallen on hard times due in part to the popularity of casinos in Atlantic City and Indian gaming facilities in Connecticut.

In reference to the new law’s impact on the Niagara Falls/Buffalo area, the governor notes, “We fought for this new measure because it will provide a major boost to the Western New York economy–bringing new jobs, thousands of tourists and new private-sector investment to the area. These new facilities, combined with our tax cuts to promote job creation and the creation of the USA Niagara Redevelopment Corporation, represent a major step forward in our continuing effort to strengthen Western New York’s economy.”

The legislation authorizes three Seneca Nation-run casinos to be built in Western New York–one in Niagara Falls, one in Buffalo, and one on existing Seneca reservation land. It allows unions access to organize certain employees at the casinos, and also removes the prohibition against slot machines that exists in current law. In addition, the bill contains provisions to address local impacts that the casinos may have on localities, New York State officials note.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno adds, “Establishing casinos in Western New York and the Catskills will put New York on an even playing field with Canada, New Jersey and Connecticut. New York is currently exporting tourists to other countries and states and now we will be bringing tourists here. The casinos, as well as provisions for additional tourism promotion upstate, will provide a critical boost to tourism and the economy throughout the state and generate revenue to support important programs for New Yorkers.”

The State Legislature passed the package that included the casino bill on Wednesday, Oct. 24. When the six Indian casinos are operational, New York State expects the facilities will generate between $300 million to $400 million in state tax revenues.

The signing of the casino bill allows talks to proceed in order to finalize a compact between the Seneca Nation and New York State on the gaming facilities in Western New York. The Seneca Nation must also obtain other approvals, including an affirmative vote by the Nation membership and a go-ahead from the federal Bureau of Interior.

State officials say that an interim Niagara Falls casino will be located in the Niagara Falls convention center and is anticipated to be opened by April 2002, pending the signing of the compact agreement between the state and the Seneca Nation. The Seneca Nation intends to construct a permanent casino facility on a parcel adjacent to the convention center as soon as the site can be acquired. The Buffalo casino is expected to open by the end of 2002 at a location to be determined by the Seneca Nation.

Immediately upon final approval of the compact with New York State, the Seneca Nation will lease the Niagara Falls Convention Center from the state for $1 a year and begin renovating the facility for transformation into a casino. Once a permanent casino is completed on adjacent lands, the Seneca Nation will purchase the convention center from the state for the amount of debt outstanding on the building as of April 1, 2002, according to state officials.

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