Movement on casinos dividing upstate communities

Mar 5, 2014

One of the casino proposals for the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region would place the new gambling house in Tyre, a Seneca County town half way between Rochester and Syracuse.

The prospect has the small farming community’s 900 residents bitterly divided. Those opposed to the development fear the casino will destroy their quiet way of life.

Standing at the intersection of highway 414 and 318 just off the New York Thruway, there isn’t a lot to see. There’s a truck stop, a restaurant with diner spelled across the side in fading yellow paint and a fire station that’s nothing more than a shed. And rolling farmland surrounds it all. This is Tyre.

Dawley is a polite and soft-spoken man with a mustache and aviator sunglasses. The wind blows tracks of snow across Blackbrook Road as he drives. He’s spent his entire life in Tyre and is proud of the rich agricultural history of his community.

“We have people whose family farms have been here since the land grant from the war of 1812. And they’re still here. The same families are still farming this,” says Dawley.

Dawley believes that way of life is now under attack. Rochester real estate investor Thomas Wilmot is proposing to build a casino here, with 2,000 slot machines, 100 gaming tables and 200 hotel rooms.

Dawley and his wife, Desiree, started the Casino Free Tyre movement. The tagline on their website is “220 years casino free and counting.”

Dawley says developers like Wilmot see a farm and think they’ve discovered a new land because there’s nothing on it. He says there’s nothing on it because people want it that way to farm.

'You don't understand what a rural agricultural town is about...'

“To eye north of the Thruway as undeveloped and missing it’s opportunity,” says Dawley. “You don’t understand what a rural agricultural town is about.”

But not everyone in town is as concerned as Dawley. Kathy Jans-Duffy was also born in Tyre and is the town historian.

“Did we lose our agricultural identity when Petro came in? That’s a truck stop. That’s a lot of pavement,” says Duffy.

Duffy says that the casino is not only a good thing for the town but that it’s necessary.

Tyre has the highest property tax in Seneca County and over the past decade, almost a third of the taxable farmland has been made part of a nature preserve.  Duffy says revenues from the casino will lower the town’s tax burden.

“The money will come back to the citizens of the state of New York and of Tyre,” says Duffy. 

The casino’s developers predict the casino will attract 9,000 visitors a day. Under the casino proposal that was voted into law last year, 10 percent of the tax revenues from a new casino will be split between the host community and host county.

As Dawley drives along the streets of Trye, many homes either have an anti- or pro-casino sign in the front yard.

He says it’s unfortunate that there is a growing tension in the community. Town historian Kathy Jans-Duffy agrees things are heating up around town.

“I know that it is causing a divide. There are some that feel intimidated,” she says.

The town board has remained neutral so far. But last month the board amended the zoning code to allow the casino to be built at the proposed location.

Dawley and the anti-casino group have recently lawyered up. Dawley says the lawyer is to protect their property rights. But Dawley says he’s willing to take more legal action if plans for the casino move forward.

Randy Gorbman reports on movement on prospective casino development in Rochester.

The Seneca Gaming Corporation, which operates three casinos in Western New York on behalf of the Seneca Indians, says it has acquired 32 acres of land in Henrietta for a potential casino.

The land is on Clay Road, near I-390 and Jefferson and E. Henrietta Roads. There are no definite development plans yet, but the Seneca's say they feel the site, and the Rochester market in general, are ideally suited for a full-scale gaming and entertainment operation, including a casino, hotel, restaurants and other retail space.

The Seneca Gaming Corporation believes such an operation cold create 2,400 construction jobs and eventually 5,000 jobs.

The Senecas say that now that they have acquired the land, they will begin the process of engaging area leaders and the community in a dialogue on how such a development could happen.

There has already organized opposition to the idea, including from a group called "No More Casinos" which has backing from area Off Track Betting and horse racing operations.

That group showed up in force at a recent Henrietta Town Board meeting to present petitions opposing the casino.

On Monday, the "No More Casinos" group issued a statement calling on the Henrietta Town Board to take action to prevent the building of a casino. The group is concerned about a number of issues, including the impact on traffic in the area, and they also feel a casino would hurt many of the small businesses that are nearby.

The opponents also say that an Indian-owned casino would not generate the same kinds of tax revenue that a privately run operation, like a racino, now  collects.