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In Niagara Falls restaurant-falloff debate, lines are clearly drawn

La Cascata, one of several casino restaurants.
La Cascata, one of several casino restaurants.

In Niagara Falls and Niagara County, going out for a bit to eat isn't as easy as it once was. According to the county Department of Health, the total number of non-Seneca dining spots in the county has dropped from 1,087 on 2007 -- the highest year -- to 937 today. That is a drop-off of 150 businesses.

Those just-released numbers are refueling the debate over whether the 2003 opening of the Seneca Niagara Casino was a positive or negative impact on the local dining economy.

Opines the Niagara Falls Reporter on Tuesday's edition, "The state went so far as to waste millions of dollars on the creation of the so-called 'Third Street Entertainment District' in order to soak up some of the spillover from the casino. As this and many other vacant properties closest to the casino prove, there is no spinoff from the casino. There has been shifting, and places near the casino such as the Arterial Lounge, George's and the Press Box, all longtime community institutions, closed, but new openings in other parts of town made up the difference. The fact is, the Seneca Niagara Casino has had a negligible effect on life in Niagara Falls. The city is poorer, but the economic slide that began in the 1960s has merely continued."

The finger0wagging is aimed at Mayor Paul Dyster, who the newspaper has labeled a "charlatan," and regularly lambasted. Dyster, for his part, refuses to talk to reporters from the publication.

But, is the debate a legitimate one? Other doomsayers before the casino was opened projected higher murder and property crime rates, but they have mot come to pass. However, the overall economy of the city remains shaky, and a population exodus slowly but inexorably continues.