Casino takes credit as Seneca County jobless rate dips to 10-year low
Robert Harding firstname.lastname@example.org Dec 12, 2017
Jeff Babinski, executive vice president and general manager at del Lago Resort & Casino, thinks he knows why the jobless rate in Seneca County is at its lowest level in a decade.
“We are a big reason why unemployment is low in the county,” he said in a phone interview Friday.
Seneca County’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent in October, according to the state Department of Labor. The rate was also 3.9 percent in May. It hasn’t been this low since October 2007, when the jobless rate was 3.9 percent.
Among the state’s 62 counties, the county has the fourth-lowest unemployment rate. Only Columbia (3.4 percent), Saratoga (3.7 percent) and Yates (3.8 percent) had lower jobless rates.
Unemployment in Seneca County is below the national, state and regional rates. The national jobless rate was 4.1 percent in October and November. The state reported a 4.8 percent rate in October. In the Finger Lakes region, the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent.
Del Lago Resort & Casino opened Feb. 1. Before the casino was built in the town of Tyre, developers pledged to create 1,800 jobs — approximately 1,500 for the casino and an additional 300 for the hotel and spa.
That promise has been largely fulfilled. More than 1,500 people were hired for various positions within the casino. Del Lago hired over 200 more employees for its 205-room hotel, which opened in July.
Del Lago hired from throughout the region, but hundreds of its employees hail from Seneca County. County residents comprise 24 percent of his staff, according to Babinski.
“We have put a lot of people to work and we’re very proud,” he said.
There are other indicators of del Lago’s impact on the county’s employment levels. The number of employed residents spiked from 14,400 in January to 15,400 in February — the month the casino opened. By comparison, there was either no increase or a slight bump from month to month in neighboring Cayuga and Wayne counties.
Seneca County’s labor force rose to 16,300 in February, which was the highest level in nearly four years.
From October 2016 to October 2017, total private sector jobs in Seneca County increased by 1,500 — a 17.4 percent hike. Total service jobs in the county increased by 23 percent, from 6,300 to 7,800, over the last year. And jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector spiked by a whopping 166.7 percent, from 900 to 2,400.
Beyond the jobs, the casino generates a significant amount of tax revenue for Seneca County. As a host municipality, the county receives five percent of the casino’s tax payments. Since the casino opened in February, the county’s share of the tax payments is $1,869,934.
Once December is factored in, the total will likely exceed $2 million.
Seneca County Manager John Sheppard said the funds come at a crucial time for the county. Without the additional money he said the county’s tax levy would have exceeded the property tax cap of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
The size of the project is also significant compared to the county’s total assessed value which, according to Sheppard, is $2.1 billion. The cost of the casino project was $440 million.
“This is a game-changer for little old Seneca County,” Sheppard said.
“That’s $440 million of private money going into an area that needed jobs and needed tourism,” he said. “Check the box. We did it.”
Casino officials have been highlighting del Lago’s impact in the aftermath of reports about the lower than expected gaming revenues. When a state gaming license was sought for the Seneca County project, developers said the casino would generate $263 million in revenue during its first year.
Since opening in February, del Lago has reported more than $125.1 million in gross gaming revenue. After taxes, the casino’s share is nearly $88 million.
In November, del Lago touted figures released by the Thruway Authority showing traffic at the Waterloo exit, which is located two-tenths of a mile away from the casino, increased by 43 percent since Feb. 1.
It was also revealed that Magee Diner, a longtime restaurant on Route 414 not far from the casino, will expand. According to Gary Schlegel, the diner’s owner, sales have increased 15 percent since del Lago opened earlier this year.
That’s not the only new development planned for the area in and around the casino. A Hilton Garden Inn will be built on the casino’s grounds to complement its existing 205-room hotel. Sheppard said there could be at least one or two more hotels built near the casino.
“The goal of del Lago was to be part of the community and drive tourism to the Finger Lakes,” Babinski said. “We’ve done that.”