For most communities, hosting a casino is a bigger gamble than any bet ever made inside of it.
Can a casino integrate into an economy like ours? Probably. But it won’t happen by accident. It will take careful planning, close coordination with municipalities and economic development agencies across the region, and a closer attention to the community’s long-term goals and needs.
Which is why it’s so terrifying that the Seneca Nation doesn’t seem interested in any of that.
The announcement that they’re considering a Henrietta location for a casino — let alone that they’ve retained an influential developer as a project expediter — was apparently a surprise to literally everyone they’d need to work with to make a casino work for our economy.
They — the tribe and Flaum Management Company — will be moving forward with a potential development project that could radically change the nature of our region and community. We — our elected officials, public interest groups and economic development agencies — are not invited.
That approach almost certainly means the resulting casino will be something our economy will have to deal with, rather than something we can work with.
Oh, sure, they’ll make promises during the permitting processes, when they need something, and claim to be deeply, deeply concerned about our community’s needs — but developers who take community needs seriously usually begin by asking the community what it wants.
Consulting residents of Henrietta about whether they want to live with a casino next door — never mind asking the citizens of Rochester and Perinton and Greece whether they’d like to live in one’s shadow — apparently did not seem important enough to the Seneca to be bothered with.
That’s a bad, bad, start. It suggests to me that we need to organize, and quickly, to make sure that no casino is possible unless it happens on our terms — by which I mean not just the people of Henrietta’s, though especially theirs, but all the local communities, community groups, and the various economic development players who make our region what it is.
A casino, after all, could either bring people to our region or suck them away from our tourist attractions; it could encourage visitors to sample everything that Greater Rochester has to offer, or it could put up road blocks. It could work with our regional business community, or it could compete with it — using gambling concessions to fund a hospitality infrastructure that will drive our local restaurants and hotels and shops out of business.
A casino could be right for Greater Rochester — but it will have to care about Greater Rochester.
On a historical level, of course, the Seneca don’t owe us any consideration at all. Indeed, having a government of white people concerned about whether an Iroquois tribe will use its power over the community wisely could be seen as an ironic punishment for the sins of our ancestors. I wouldn’t disagree. Except that, from the standpoint of absolute justice, we’d be getting off incredibly easy.
Really balancing the scales would, at the very least, require the Seneca to steal our children and raise them sadistically as second-class citizens while forbidding any knowledge of their native culture or language. Minimum.
But no living, breathing, parent could ever be expected to accept that, no matter how great a historical injustice involved — just as no community can reasonably be expected to try to right past wrongs by letting itself be poisoned.
So while this whole enterprise is drenched in the blood of history, we must neither pretend that we can work off our historical obligation by moving a development project along, nor imagine that we are morally required to accept whatever the victim wants to do as right for our home.
On a historical level, the Seneca don’t owe us any consideration at all. But since they’re developing a project with the potential to massively impact our region, it matters if they show us any consideration … at all.
It sounds like we need to organize, and fast.
Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media and is the editor of Email him at