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Albany Holds Out 'Casino Hopes'

WAMC composite photo by Dave Lucas

Even though the city of Albany is out of the competition to land a casino, the Common Council may soon get to vote on supporting one.

You may have thought Albany had washed its hands of the casino issueearly in the summer when the E23 plan crumbled and developer David Flaum set sail for Rensselaer. Mayor Kathy Sheehan sent a short letter to Common Council members, asking they not endorse any of the Capital Region casino projects prior to the state's June 30 application deadline. There is one casino license available for the Capital Region.

At the time, none of the local proposals were inside the city or county, so  Albany was not in line for any monetary benefits casinos would pay host communities. That has changed.

The forces behind a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino planned for the city of Rensselaer, undoubtedly mindful of the fact Albany is going through a financial crisis, stepped up to the plate, offering Albany $1 million a year for the next 10 years in exchange for Albany's support for the $280 million riverfront development. Neighboring community support is considered an important part of the gaming commission’s siting process.

According to published reports, once June 30 passed, Albany struck an agreement with the partnerships in Rensselaer and East Greenbush to jointly pay for a consultant Albany would select to analyze the pros and cons of each plan with regard to the capital city.

The reports say the offer includes jobs training programs. The Times Union says Mayor Sheehan has told lawmakers to expect written proposals from both the Rensselaer and East Greenbush teams within days.

"I found out about the million dollars when I read the paper this morning."  Tenth ward Common Council member Leah Golby and her colleagues would have to approve any arrangement.

Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer says he's glad to give the city across the river a boost.  "Albany is a little tight on cash, so we figure a million dollars would help them in the economic condition they're in. But there's more to it than just a million dollalrs. There's job creation, and we're gonna help their hotels over there, because overflow - when the people call into the Hard Rock for a hotel room, it's gonna be upscale and some people aren't gonna be able to afford that price, so what we're gonna do is recommend hotels in Albany."

Golby says Wednesday night, the council talked about casinos for the first time in weeks.  "We were just discussing that we would be hearing from the mayor on what she was seeking support what she thought would be appropriate for the city to seek support from. I think the council as a whole is waiting to see what the mayor brings to us, and then there is of course, the Rensselaer site has been courting the city very proactively."

Former county legislator Brian Scavo issued a statement saying he believes Hard Rock casino deal maker Flaum is acting in desperation by offering Albany a million dollars. Quoting Scavo: "Sheehan and” Common Council president Carolyn “McLauglin should have had more concern for the taxpayers of Albany when the city of Albany had LOST two chances for two casino deals , which would have meant tax relief for the city of Albany."

Mayor Sheehan's office did not immediately respond to a call for comment.   Flaum's offer dangles the prospect of jobs training programs, but some critics of casino development say the projects rarely results in jobs for people who seem to need them most. The question of whether casinos spur economic development or merely further depress challenged areas has been debated across upstate New York and in neighboring Massachusetts in recent months.

Again, Leah Golby: "The potential positive impact of jobs is very real and hopeful, but there could also be negative impacts of increased crime and traffic."

Golby says she'll wait and see if East Greenbush and its Churchill Downs-Saratoga Racino project comes up with a million-dollar offer of its own. The state has yet to select a casino site from the four applicants, which also include Schenectady and Schoharie County at Howe Caverns. A Montgomery County proposal was disqualified.

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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