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Cuomo rejects bailout for struggling del Lago casino in Finger Lakes

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CLOSECuomo rejects bailout for struggling del Lago casino in Finger Lakes

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he's not in favor of bailing out del Lago Casino in Seneca County. Cuomo's remarks came on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau

ALBANY - No dice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that the struggling del Lago casino in the Finger Lakes will have to go boom or bust on its own as the owners lobby for a state bailout.

"The upstate gaming casinos are private concerns," Cuomo told reporters.

"They bid, they made an investment and some of them will say they are not doing as well as they hoped or would have expected. But they’re private concerns, and I don’t want to get into the business of bailing out private concerns."

The casino's owner, Thomas Wilmot, on Monday was at the state Capitol and told USA TODAY Network's Albany Bureau that he was seeking state help because of less-than-expected revenue in del Lago's first year of operation.

"I think we need some help at this point, and what the future holds, time will tell," Wilmot said.

More: Andreatta: No bailout for del Lago casino

Del Lago casino, struggling with revenue, seeks state bailout

Upstate casinos end first year well short of projections

Who's to blame?

A del Lago spokesman later blamed the Seneca Nation of Indians for withholding taxes to the state and using the money to bolster incentives to gamblers — hurting del Lago's bottom line.

But a number of lawmakers have since blasted del Lago's request for state aid, which appears to be for a lower tax rate.

Critics said del Lago won a state bid in 2014 for the Tyre, Seneca County, casino based on what now appear to have been rosy projections.

Cuomo offered a similar stance, saying the casinos brought economic development to the state but ultimately must stand on their own.

"We did casino gaming to create facilities, generate economic development, create jobs — and it has done that," Cuomo continued.

He added, "So to the extent you have a casino saying, ‘Well, You know what? I’m not meeting my expectations. I should get help from the state.'

"I’m not sympathetic to that."

Talks continue

One of the 89 gaming tables.3 of 24
Some of the 2,000 slot machines at the del Lago Resort4 of 24
The main gaming floor.5 of 24
Some of the 89 table games.6 of 24
Crews set up furniture inside the Farmers Market Buffet.7 of 24Workers paint murals on the walls inside the Farmers8 of 24Some of the 2,000 slot machines on the main gaming9 of 24The High Limit gaming room.10 of 24A bar located between the main gaming floor and the11 of 24The main gaming floor.12 of 24The main gaming floor.13 of 24Food options  at the del Lago include Moe's, Ciccino's14 of 24Some of the 2,000 slot machines at the del Lago Resort15 of 24Dealers go through training at one of the gaming tables.16 of 24Dealers go through training at one of the gaming tables.17 of 24Dealers go through training at one of the gaming tables.18 of 24Some of the 2,000 slot machines.19 of 24Blackjack gaming tables.20 of 24The main gaming floor at the del Lago.21 of 24Work continues inside and out in preparation for the22 of 24Work continues inside and out in preparation of the23 of 24Work continues inside and out the weekend before the24 of 24

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Del Lago continues to talk with the governor's office and state lawmakers to reach a compromise, said Steven Greenberg, the casino's spokesman.

He contended that the problem is the Senecas last year stopped paying taxes to the state on its casino revenue — which the state is fighting — and is now offering better incentives to gamblers to visit its casinos in Niagara Falls and Buffalo.

Greenberg called it a "bait and switch" by the Senecas to draw customers away from del Lago, making the new casino's situation "untenable."

"From the time del Lago opened, the Seneca Nation went from paying 25 percent to zero," Greenberg said.

"So they pay zero on their slot machines, and del Lago pays 37.5 percent. So the landscape completely changed."

The Senecas on Monday disputed del Lago's stance, saying del Lago is suffering from its own poor projections.

Moving forward

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Fabio Viviani says his brunch takes American dishes and local ingredients and adds an Italian spin to them. His restaurant, Portico, has opened at del Lago Resort and Casino. Max Schulte

The $440 million casino was a surprise pick to win a state gaming license from a state siting board and has since entered a competitive gaming market.

Three Seneca Nation casinos in the Buffalo area and two racetracks with video-lottery terminals are to the west, while the Oneidas now run three casinos to the east.

So del Lago ended its first year at about $147 million in revenue — about 44 percent lower than projections.

That was the largest discrepancy between projections and actual revenue among the three upstate casinos that opened a year ago, the Albany Bureau reported last month.

Moody's Investors Service in January warned that del Lago may struggle to pay off its debt at the current rate.

It warned "without a substantial improvement in revenue, del Lago will not be able to achieve a level of performance that can support its existing debt capital structure."

Wilmot said Monday, "We’re paying the bills."

But he added, "Long term, it isn’t going to be sustainable without some help."

Construction crews kept busy earlier this fall allowing3 of 9
Del Lago Resort & Casino plans to hire 1,500 workers4 of 9
Kayla Sciarabba, 20, of Geneva, works a game of Black5 of 9
Construction crews kept busy earlier this fall allowing6 of 9Construction crews kept busy earlier this fall allowing7 of 9Construction crews kept busy earlier this fall allowing8 of 9Construction crews kept busy earlier this fall allowing9 of 9

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The state has come to the aid of other gambling facilities in New York in recent years, including for Vernon Downs and Finger Lakes Racetrack.

But some state lawmakers said del Lago should expect help after just one year in business.

Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, Erie County, wrote a letter to Cuomo on Wednesday that said his understanding is Lago was seeking $14 million in tax breaks.

"They have received many benefits from state and local governments, and enough is enough," he wrote.

"I believe that bailing out this casino with people’s hard-earned dollars is simply inappropriate and wrong."

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Includes reporting by Albany Bureau staff writer Jon Campbell.

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