Sunday, February 27, 2011

Breaking Biased News: A Native American Owned Business Has a “Staggering” Advantage Over Other Businesses -- UPDATED

After reading an article in the Buffalo News paper about casino gaming and the on-going fight between the Citizens for a Better Buffalo and the Seneca Nation of Indians, it occurred to me that until there is an honest and logical debate, these fights will continue and the Buffalo News will continue printing stories that are not helpful with bringing people together and solving this area’s primary problems.

It seems there are three distinct groups in this community when it applies to the topic of Native American owned casinos.

Group 1 – Those who totally oppose Native American Gaming.
Group 2 – Those who totally support Native American Gaming.
Group 3 – Those who do not like the idea of Native American’s supporting its communities with gaming, but value the rights they have to do so and without it, their communities would be less self-sustainable.

Groups 1 & 2 have easy solutions to their problem. Group 3’s issues are much more complicated and require a larger effort of problem solving. I will consider myself a Group 3 member. For those who have the sole agenda of denying Native America’s the right to own a legal, successful business, which supports its community, can expect to be opposed by Groups 2 & 3. If those folks in Group 1 want to achieve their overall mission, join Group 3 and begin working towards a long-term solution of Native American sovereignty and self-determination. However, if your Group 1 goal is to destroy a legal Native American business by any means necessary, similar to the dishonorable acts that where recently printed in the Buffalo News paper, expect a larger group of opponents. 

I won’t or can’t document the entire historical aspects of all the disagreements. However, I will state a few plain facts. It appears the Seneca Nation is operating a business that is successful and legal. Citizens for a Better Buffalo have spent a lot of time and money trying to stop the Seneca’s business from operating.

Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel

A very important fact to remember is that the Seneca business is a legal operation. The Seneca’s have played by the rules. Not their own made up rules, but rules forced on any business in Buffalo.

The News Story  

The Buffalo News recently published a story about how Citizens for a Better Buffalo have gained allies on Buffalo’s City Council in trying to shut down the Seneca’s business. That story is sprinkled with comments that should scare some folks and cause readers to negatively view a Native American business. I can understand how they were able to gain supporters on Buffalo’s City Council using these tactics. Here are a few of those comments:

“…expanded casino will prove a ‘huge money-sucking vacuum’ in a city already struggling with high poverty.”

“What we rarely hear about is the devastating negative economic impact that research shows occurs when a tax-exempt casino is placed in what is claimed to be sovereign land within an urban setting.”

“Seneca casinos in Western New York gave away $42 million in ‘loss leaders’ over a nine-month period.”

“They give away more rooms per night than the Hyatt and the Adam's Mark combined,” “…No one can compete.”

“That pales in comparison to the social costs of gambling…”

“They have created a culture in this community of gambling as a way of life…which I think is destructive.”

 “…because Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino is located in a poor neighborhood of a poor city, its presence will only exacerbate poverty.”

“The explosive growth of gambling in New York State and Western New York in particular, is disastrous for people with low incomes.”

“A large percentage of gambling revenue comes from problem gamblers, and many problem gamblers are people with low incomes.”

“These damn dirty Indians will soon be just as prosperous as the rest of us -- dating our daughters and trying to change our great way of life.”

Sorry, that last quote was mine. I thought I would just sum up how I view the main notion behind the other quotes!

Most of these comments are supported by a “report” conducted by Niagara University professor Steven H. Siegel. According to the Buffalo News paper, Mr. Siegel is “contending that city leaders should be wary of plans to expand the downtown casino even on a smaller scale than originally envisioned. He contends that the Senecas effectively enjoy a 15 percent price advantage over non-Indian competitors in the hospitality industry. He called the advantage staggering.”


Mr. Siegel’s Niagara University bio:
Following 10 years working in various operational and management positions within the hospitality industry, Professor Siegel is now completing his 31st year on the faculty of the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Niagara University. His teaching interests focus upon the areas of strategic management, finance, and analytical methods as applied to the industry. His research interests explore the competitive advantages that Indian run casinos, with hotels and food and beverage outlets, located on sovereign Indian land, have over local hospitality establishments.

A couple of very important points that must be addressed:
1. The reliability and validity of Mr. Siegel’s study;
2. Staggering, unfair advantage. 

#1 Point

I contacted Mr. Siegel and asked for his report and/or study that this entire article is based on. I would like to learn more about the study’s research design and methods. He has not yet replied to my request. Mr. Siegel has a master degree in business administration. This is a very good degree for someone who wants to master the skills associated with working in a business. It is not a degree to have if someone wants to conduct scientific research. If you are interested in conducting scientific research, a PhD is best.

Now… please know, someone could be a good business administrator with a PhD and someone could do good research with a master degree in business. However, the educational training and skill development would not match up. For instance, I have a couple of college degrees. I’ve watched, on many occasions, our dog groomer, groom our dogs. I thought to myself, “I can do this job and save some money.” As part of my expanded dog grooming training I watched several step-by-step YouTube videos on how to groom dogs. Afterwards, I went to the local pet store and spend about $120 on a do-it-yourself dog grooming kit. That kit came with an instructional video that I watched as well. After all this preparation, I felt highly trained, educated, and confident I could successfully groom our dogs. Update: I have a lightly used dog grooming kit for sale, if anyone is interested.

Mr. Siegel is a teacher, and after 31 years probably a good one. However, it is my opinion that his education and training have not appropriately prepared him to be a scientific researcher. Also, I have been unable to find any peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts or discovered any funded scientific works by Mr. Siegel related to his research. Peer-reviewed research manuscripts and/or obtaining federal research funds best indicate that the research plan has been at least minimally scrutinized. (And a little, gentle advice for Mr. Siegel, please consider editing your bio by removing the word – Indian. Please consider using American Indian or Native American).

Let’s look specifically at the report’s stated outcomes. Basically, Mr. Siegel reports that Native Americans have a staggering advantage over non-Native American businesses. Other hospitality businesses can’t compete, he says. Hotels can’t fill rooms, sports bars lose customers, HSBC arena loses money, movie theaters lose money, etc. So this leads me to the second conflicting aspect of this argument.

#2 Point

First, the fairness issue? The Seneca business is operating by the law of the land, rules that every business operates. It’s not like the Seneca created these laws. So, the “unfair” label is, well…an unfair, unwarranted description.

But the main conflict in the article’s position is that the Seneca business destroys communities that are already dilapidated, neglected, and poverty burdened and that only poor people enter the Seneca business. I do not understand the association between the Seneca business hurting poor people and its advantages over other local businesses, happening concurrently.

Are Mr. Siegel and Citizens for a Better Buffalo saying that very poor people were spending their money on other hospitality businesses around Buffalo prior to the arrival of the Seneca business? Were all the poor people in Buffalo spending their weekends at the Hyatt and the Adam's Mark hotel? Were the people from the “poor neighborhood of a poor city” using their limited money going to movies, eating out at the upscale downtown Buffalo restaurants and going to hockey games at HSBC arena?  

If the Seneca business only attracts low income people, how do they have a “staggering” advantage over other hospitality businesses? Were the low income people spending all of their money on other entertainment/hospitality businesses before the Seneca’s arrived, and now that they have arrived, these folks avoid all other businesses except the Seneca’s business?

Please allow me to remind you of some of the article’s comments:

“The explosive growth of gambling in New York State and Western New York in particular, is disastrous for people with low incomes.”

“A large percentage of gambling revenue comes from problem gamblers, and many problem gamblers are people with low incomes.”

“They give away more rooms per night than the Hyatt and the Adam's Mark combined,” “…No one can compete.”

Article’s Logical Conclusion

I am confused how the Seneca business hurts low income people, its only customers, while disadvantaging other businesses unless low income people were spending their money elsewhere on entertainment/hospitality activities.

Let’s have an honest, logic debate about how to best improve the lives of people who live around Buffalo. Let’s also have an honest, logical debate about how Native Americans can best sustain their right of sovereignty and operate a legal business. This entire article’s argument is not logical, reliable or valid. An unbiased scientific researcher might have dealt with these illogical issues. Unbiased Citizens for a Better Buffalo should address their concerns honestly and logically. Finally, An unbiased Buffalo City Council should not base their decisions on a biased, unscientific report. All groups should find a way to join together in a common cause of increasing the health and wellness of all people in our communities.

Peace, DAP

UPDATE: I have contacted the writers of the Buffalo News story asking them to comment. Below is their response.

I have also contacted Steven Siegel and Bruce Jackson with the Citizens for a Better Buffalo offering an opportunity to respond.

From The Buffalo News:
Dr. Patterson:

Thank you for sending along your blog. You should consider condensing
your thoughts and submitting them as a letter to the editor or a
submission to our MY View column.

I must say, however, that I find no basis for your view that the story
was biased. The group issued a report, brought it to the Council, and we
wrote about it. No more, no less.

But I am sure your thoughts would be very welcome.

Bob McCarthy

Greetings, Dr. Patterson.
Thanks for your note.
I'm the city government reporter at The News. My main contribution to this article focused on some Common Council members' concerns that an agreement between the city and Seneca Gaming was being breached. My involvement with this story had little to do with the study, which is the main focus of your blog.
Thanks for taking the time to reach out to me. I appreciate it.
Brian Meyer

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