Buffalo, New York and Western New York as a whole went through hell last year. Among the calamities were the May grocery store mass shooting that left 10 dead and the blizzard in December where 37 perished. And certainly when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin nearly died on the field from cardiac arrest.
However, Buffalonians are made of stern stuff and community is all. Standing with them through adversity has been Seneca Gaming, and the Seneca Buffalo Creek property.
The blizzard closed Seneca Buffalo Creek casino for nearly a week. Seneca Niagara closed its gaming floor for 12 hours. It operated with limited services and amenities; but with 500 hotel guests they couldn’t simply close. Some Seneca employees worked 36 straight hours.
Global Gaming Business spoke with Kevin Nephew, president and CEO of Seneca Gaming Corporation, which operates Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino and Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino.
Supporting, connecting with and being part of the community has always been the Seneca way. After the mass shooting, Seneca Gaming conducted an employee food donation drive at all three properties, and a public drop-off at Buffalo Creek. It delivered 700 plus pounds of food to FeedMore Western New York to help impacted neighborhoods.
“Look back on 2022, there was so much that hit us,” said Nephew. “Starting in May at the Tops supermarket. It sent the community reeling. The Seneca Nation is an integral part of Western New York. It’s always been our home. When we saw what happened at Tops, the whole community came together and Seneca Gaming pulled together.” Besides food distribution, “We also have the Seneca CARES program. We reward team members for their participation.”
Then: “We were smacked with this blizzard five days before New Year,” said Nephew. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team. We had folks who stayed on our property during the blizzard. It was one of the few times we had to shut our property.”
The CEO considers himself “pretty good” with snow. “But this was a true blizzard,” he said. “And while we always seem to be prepared for the expense, it went from a blizzard to a tragic event where more than 40 passed. We were at the center.”
For 24 hours five feet of snow fell. “It was blowing in excess of 50 mph and topping out at 70 or 80. The type of storm that would take your breath away. You literally couldn’t see from one side of the street to the other,” said Nephew.
Some employees stayed at a local hotel. When food ran low, the executive director of gaming and a security director walked the last two blocks in the snow with provisions. “I focus on this term I use with our Seneca people and the people of Western New York. We are resilient,” said Nephew. “One of the beautiful things we saw was how this community came together.”
Nephew added, “It was amazing how fast we bounced back. We had that property ready to open up as soon as it could. It also impacted our Niagara property. In both we became something of a safety zone.”
There was also an outpouring of caring for Damar Hamlin’s attack on the field. “We want to make sure he gets healthy,” said Nephew. “We are true blue Bills fans up here. This year there was a lot of adversity but we are proud of the casino, the Seneca Nation and New York.”
Employees reflect the corporate “culture.” “One of our values is caring for one another,” Nephew said. “We feel about our team, our neighbors and Western New York. Working and winning together. Talking about adversity: We look to win and overcome it together. We want to listen to every person. We always want to hear their voice and their voice matters. Securing our future and how that impacts the next seven generations. I focus on our values as we approach business every day.”
As they dug out of the snow, they switched gears from recovery to celebration. “We celebrated our 20th anniversary,” said Nephew. “Christmas Day we went from being closed to a historic anniversary. It was a really incredible night and incredible weekend following an incredible blizzard. They focused from digging out to celebrating New Year’s Eve. They never miss a beat.”
He added, “The reopening of Seneca Buffalo Creek after Christmas was packed. It combined everyone getting out after being indoors so long and our team handling a really large crowd the first night open—and providing a world class event.”