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New Erie County exec pulls out of anti-casino lawsuits against Seneca

By Carolyn Thompson
Buffalo, New York (AP) 1-08

Erie County is pulling out of the legal fight against the Seneca Indian Nation’s plans for a casino in Buffalo.

County Executive Chris Collins, on his second full day on the job during January said he was following through on a campaign promise not to stand in the way of the $333 million project.

Collins’ predecessor, Joel Giambra, joined two federal lawsuits attempting to block construction of the Senecas’ third western New York casino. The suits challenge the Senecas’ right to build on the site in the city’s Cobblestone District.

“Erie County cannot turn its back on an over $300 million construction project and private investment in the city of Buffalo,” Collins said. “While I certainly do not believe the casino will be the answer to all of Buffalo’s problems, this project does offer a considerable opportunity to redevelop the Cobblestone District and attract visitors to downtown.”

Maurice John, president of the 8,000-member western New York tribe, joined Collins for the announcement.

“County Executive Collins has chosen not to stand in the way of progress and development, but to embrace it,” John said.

Attorneys for casino opponents said the county’s withdrawal would have no impact on the pending case.

“There is a multitude of plaintiffs in this case and the withdrawal by one of them does not change in any way whatsoever the central legal issue that must be resolved,” the Albany law firm O’Connell and Aronowitz said in a prepared statement.

“Whether the 9 1/2-acre parcel in the heart of downtown Buffalo where the casino is to be located is Indian land and not subject to state law prohibiting such gambling will be decided regardless of Erie County’s participation,” the lawyers said.

The Senecas currently operate a small temporary casino at the Buffalo site, as well as two lucrative casino-hotel complexes in Niagara Falls and Salamanca. The Buffalo project, expected to be completed in 2010, would be the final one allowed under a 2002 agreement with then-Gov. George Pataki. The agreement requires the Senecas to share some slot machine profits with the state and host communities.

 

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