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Friday, August 24, 2007

Inside Buffalo's new "temporary" casino

By Dick Hirsch
On one of the most glorious afternoons of the summer---temperatures in the high 70s, low humidity, cloudless sky---they could have been at the beach or on a golf course. They could have been mowing the lawn, washing the car, painting the garage, doing other odd jobs, or else snoozing in the shade.
But each of us establishes a list of personal priorities. These folks opted to forsake the sunshine and fresh air, to forget or postpone all the other options, and pay homage to the Seneca Nation at the temporary Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino on Perry near Michigan. I’ve been in smaller joints offering gambling in Montana and the Dakotas, where almost every convenience store has a row of slot machines and nearly every motel has its version of a casino. Still, this one is remarkable because of the quality of information it is furnishing to the Seneca Nation gambling czars and what it tells us and them about the future.
It is a windowless steel building, far too big to be a shed, and much too small to be a manufacturing plant. It’s about the size of a regional tool and die shop, only instead of being outfitted with computerized cutting and drilling machinery designed to create wealth for the proprietors, it is armed with over 120 slots designed to create wealth for the proprietors.
In case you haven’t guessed, I think a casino for downtown Buffalo is a terrible decision, a decision public officials and citizens will be regretting for decades, an act of desperation endorsed by our leaders. My specific objection is that a Buffalo casino will attract primarily Buffalo area people. It will never, ever be a tourist attraction. It will suck the money out of our people who are least able to afford losing.
So I went down to see for myself on this sunny, temperate, idyllic summer afternoon. I arrived at a very opportune time because a Brinks armored truck was parked outside the entrance, its engine idling. The question: Were they making a delivery or a pickup? Need I tell you? A few minutes later a pair of armed guards pushed a two wheeler, laden with sealed cash boxes, out the front door, and loaded up. I didn't ask anyone how often the Brinks crews make pickups, but I think we can safely say that it happens quite frequently.
Inside, the interior designer for the Senecas has done a decent job in creating a casino-like atmosphere; colorfully painted walls, flashing lights and garish floral carpeting are the highlights. Because there are no restrictions on smoking in this Seneca territory, the place smelled awful, like an old bar on Sycamore Street at the 4 AM closing time on a Friday night in the 1960s. Every seat at every slot was occupied. There were people waiting for a vacancy, for their opportunity to sit down and get in the action. I spotted one man wearing a suit with an ID card dangling from a lavaliere around his neck.
“It’s always like this, night and day,” he said. “It’s impossible to say which are the most popular games because they are all busy all the time. We always have people waiting.”
This has been a very reassuring experiment for the Senecas, as they await final authority to proceed toward the opening of their own permanent, more elaborate, monstrous casino nearby.
I went not to gamble but to spy. I wanted to see who the customers were. Let’s say I wanted to make a demographic investigation, eyeballing the patrons and deciding how to generalize about their circumstances. I walked the aisles and looked at the faces, intent, some transfixed by the flashing lights.
I’ve been in Buffalo all my life and I know these people. I don’t really KNOW them as individuals, but I certainly know them as a group. These are not middle class people. These are people who live near the edge, from check to check, who rely on that income, whether it comes from a job, a pension or the welfare department. This is a neighborhood casino. Who else would endure the crowded conditions and the acrid atmosphere, not to mention the odds, on this sunny afternoon? These are hopeful people. They view it not as a game, but as an opportunity. They are people who really need to win, people for whom losing can be viewed as defeat and cause hardship. They are desperately hoping to score, eager to walk out smiling. They seem content, oblivious to the knowledge that the house always wins.
It’s a sad and tawdry place, filled with losers, exactly what I expected.

end

1 Comments:

At 8:34 AM, Blogger david m said...

Dick: I think you captured the essence of this place beautifully.

 

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