For a man whose history with casino gaming goes back some 20 years, G. Michael “Mickey” Brown looks at the New Year’s Eve opening of the Seneca Niagara Casino as the latest chapter in his legacy.
Opening the casino was no small feat. Consider that when the current football season began, the facility, the former Niagara Falls Convention Center, was still being used as just that – a convention center.
Now, 109 days and $80 million later, the venue has been transformed into a state-of-the-art casino, home to 88,000 square feet of gaming space where visitors can play cards at 95 different tables or play one of 2,650 slot machines.
That doesn’t include nearly 30,000 square feet of restaurant, bar and concession space.
The casino is being viewed as the major economic development catalyst in Niagara Falls, bigger than the falls themselves. Many feel the casino is the last hope for a city that has been struggling economically for the better part of three decades.
At the center of this hope is Brown, 60, a nationally-recognized Keluaran Hk gaming development expert hired by the Seneca Nation of Indians to build permanent casinos in downtown Niagara Falls and Buffalo.
A lawyer and partner in the New Jersey-based firm of Brown Previtti & Carroll P.C., Brown is widely credited for his work with Mashhantucket Pequot Tribal Gaming Commission to build Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, the largest full-service gaming operation in the world.
“Personally, I didn’t think I’d get into another project like this after Foxwoods,” Brown said. “But, after the Senecas contacted me, the more excited they got about the project, the more excited I got.”
Rickey Armstrong, Seneca Nation president, said Brown was the first – and only – choice to help set up the local casino effort.
“The timeline to get the first casino up and running has been very aggressive,” Armstrong said. “That’s one of the reasons why it was very important that we have experts like Mickey on our team, guiding us and helping us set the course for our future development.”
Brown’s job doesn’t end on New Year’s Eve when the Seneca Niagara Casino opens its doors.
Despite its hefty price tag, the former convention center is a temporary casino. The Seneca Nation is working on plans for a permanent casino in the Cataract City. A clearer vision and proposal for the permanent casino is expected by mid year.
Also expected to be announced by spring is the Seneca Nation’s plans for a downtown Buffalo casino. Many believe the tribe will open a temporary casino in the Statler Towers building and eventually build a permanent one where the current Buffalo Convention Center stands.
“This (the opening of the Seneca Niagara Casino) is really just one small step in what the Nation wants to do,” Brown said.
Brown, who spent five years in Foxwoods when he only thought he was going to be in Connecticut for a few months, estimates that he will remain in the Buffalo Niagara region for at least three or four years. He is working with a multi-year contract in hand and, in August, bought a local condominium so he has a place to call home.
“I’ll stay as long as the Senecas want me,” Brown said.
If the Senecas have their druthers, Brown will be sticking around for a long time.
“We wanted world-class talent on our team in order to create the world-class gaming and entertainment facility we are planning, so Mickey was the obvious choice,” Armstrong said.
The casino means a lot of things to the Seneca Nation. Brown estimates that between 300 and 400 members of the tribe will be working at the casino when the doors open next week. All told, the casino is expected to employ between 1,500 and 2,000 workers.
For many, it’s chance to earn a solid, middle class income.
“One of things that I’m most proud of is that we are taking some people who have only the most basic math skills and teaching them to be world class blackjack dealers in eight weeks,” Brown said.
The average casino worker will earn between $28,000 and $32,000 a year, plus tips. Perks include health care, wellness and employee assistance programs.
“All in all, it is a pretty respectable living,” Brown said.
The casino’s impact on Niagara Falls is also expected to be significant.
Brown estimates some 6,000 people a day will visit the facility. That translates to 2.1 million people. By comparison, Casino Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ont. attracts about 10 million visitors annually.
The Seneca Niagara Casino is banking on the average patron spending between $80 and $85 per visit, with about 80 percent of that money being spent at one of the gaming tables or slot machines.
Outside of the casino, Brown estimates the facility will create 1.5 jobs for every one on his payroll.
Additionally, the casino is giving vendors in the Niagara Falls and immediate Buffalo Niagara region first crack at supplying goods for the facility.
“We’ll be buying more bread and canolis in one day than all of Niagara Falls buys in a month,” Brown said.
Despite the presence of Casino Niagara and slot machines in the Fort Erie Race Track, Brown thinks the Seneca Niagara Casino will be a big draw for the region and not necessarily take away customers from its Canadian counterparts.
Brown said the Seneca Niagara Casino is being heavily marketed in such places as Rochester, Syracuse and Erie.
Casino Niagara also markets itself in those same markets. That may open the door for bringing even more people – and their dollars – into the region.
“The idea of gambling in two different countries is kind of exotic and a one-of-kind experience,” Brown said. “That’s the experience we want to sell.”