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East Greenbush Board Supports Casino Plan

WAMC composite photo by Dave Lucas

Casinos top the list of issues that have been driving the area agenda. Governor Andrew Cuomo put the wheels in motion during his second State of the State address in 2012. "Let's amend the constitution. Let's do gaming right. Let's make it safe. Let's protect our people. Let's get the jobs back in New York."

The governor reasoned that building new gambling casinos would prop up New York's failing economy.   In November 2013, Cuomo's proposition was approved by voters, and  "casino chatter" has dominated the headlines ever since.

Where to site an upstate casino has been one big hot potato for local governments and citizens. Developments have moved along a fast track. The city of Albany, for example, going from an idea to put gaming on the old Tobin Packing site to a spectacular plan to build a major attraction near Thruway Exit 23 to nothing at all, developers packing their bags and pulling out.

With a June 30th filing deadline fast approaching and no time to initiate a referendum, the East Greenbush Town Board made it unanimous Thursday night during a special meeting, voting to green-light building a $300 million casino on Thompson Hill.

Officials believe the casino would be a fiscal blessing, creating 3,000 jobs and substantially lowering taxes. Town Supervisor Keith Langley told NewsChannel13 economic development is important. "We've all looked at this very seriously and we see the potential gain for the town, so I hope the residents of the Town of East Greenbush will respect what we've done here."

Developers argue the project would boost the Capital Region economy by $24.1 million annually and infuse $5.7 million each into Rensselaer County and the town of East Greenbush.

However, the vote doesn't mean a casino will actually go up in East Greenbush. The bid faces competition from elsewhere in the county as the city of Rensselaer is also hoping to be selected as upstate New York's "casino place to be"...  and there are casinos proposed in Montgomery, Schoharie and Schenectady counties as well.

There's been a movement by a small but very vocal group to quash the notion of building a casino in East Greenbush: the anti-casino group dominated the crowd and the public comment period. The five board members chose to move the idea forward.

Rita Cox with Saratoga Casino and Raceway, one of the developers along with Churchill Downs Gaming, was at the meeting and addressed the naysayers in this comment to NewsChannel13:  "Every progressive development that ever happened, there's positive and there's negative, and we've listened to both sides."

Despite the anti-casino crowd, at least one board member who went door-to-door found residents overwhelmingly supportive of the town hosting a casino.

A group called No East Greenbush Casino is lobbying against the proposed project and has also hired an attorney, and is threatening to sue.

Monday night, the Schenectady City Council voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution supporting a $450 million Las Vegas-style resort and casino at the old ALCO site along Erie Boulevard. Council President Peggy King's comments mirror the apparent line of thinking in East Greenbush town hall : "The economic benefits just outweigh some of the social concerns. And we think the potential for the job creation and the potential revenue that can be used to offset taxes outweighs the potential negatives."

Casino applications are due before the New York State Gaming Commission at the end of this month. A decision is to be announced in the fall.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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