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Local Conventions Head Opposes Casino Proposal

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – It appears that some local leaders aren't prepared to give up on the city's growing convention trade, even if it means bringing a casino to downtown Buffalo. Officials of the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau said Monday they would oppose turning over the downtown convention center to the Seneca Nation of Indians for a casino.

It was once seen as a white elephant. But after more than $5 million in Erie County-funded renovations, Buffalo Convention Center once again has a bright future with increased bookings.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau says more than 400,000 people will pass through the convention center this year, pumping $50 dollars into the local economy. It's becoming an economic engine, says Bureau Director Richard Geiger, that the area can't afford to lose.

"I think a casino could help bring more people into downtown Buffalo and provide an evening entertainment venue for conventioneers and other visitors," Geiger said. "We're not opposed to a casino, but we feel it would be a very bad business decision to lose all of our convention, meeting and trade show business in downtown Buffalo."

Erie County Executive Joel Giambra says he is willing to discuss the the Seneca's casino proposal if it includes provisions for a new convention center downtown. But even if that were to happen -- a very big if -- Geiger said he would not support immediately turning over the existing building to the Senecas.

"We cannot get out of the convention center business, waiting for a new center to be built," Geiger said. "If they want to build a new center down the line, that's fine. But we cannot give up the current convention center because you just can't get back in the convention business once you're out of it."

Giambra, who with the County Legislature has the final say on whether to turn over the convention center for a casino, is not making any promises right now. He says he has yet to receive any official correspondence from the Senecas about their proposal.