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Anti-Casino Voices Strong In East Greenbush, Schenectady

Anti-casino activists in East Greenbush are anxiously awaiting a town zoning vote scheduled for tonight. Meanwhile, anti-casino forces in Schenectady remain steadfast in their opinion the historic Stockade neighborhood is no place for a gaming hall.

The activists say casino developers are trying to alter the East Greenbush Comprehensive Zoning Law to accommodate extensive commercial development in a Residential Buffer Zone. Cara Benson is a member of a small but very vocal group dedicated to quashing the notion of building a casino in East Greenbush:      "They're trying to shove a casino, a bar, a hotel, a gift shop, a spa into a residential buffer zone, and they're saying that the State Gaming Act allows this, whereas, the question and answer form the Gaming Commission itself indicates that is actually not the case."

Last month, state Gaming Commission site selection committee leader Kevin Law told the Daily News that choosing between applicants close to the city and applicants in needy communities “will be our biggest challenge.”

A Times Union op-ed piece in Tuesday's paper focused on the "needy community" aspect. Columnist Chris Churchill wrote that East Greenbush is "a relatively affluent town," and suggested Schenectady or Schoharie were most likely to receive what’s expected to be the lone Capital Region casino license. It’s just one man’s opinion, but Churchill rated proposals for Rensselear and East Greenbush as long shots.   Benson says  "we just love that article. We absolutely think this application should have been dead in the water from the start. He [Churchill] appropriately notes that it’s a completely absurd location, to try to put a casino next to a girl scout camp, a Montessori school, within walking distance of the high school, it's a residential neighborhood, it's a relatively affluent community that has consistently and vehemently opposed the thought of a casino."

Benson and her Save East Greenbush communards will appear at tonight's board meeting, where the Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to vote on whether the Planned Development District for the proposed casino and its attendant amenities can trump local zoning.

In handicapping the Capital Region Casino hopefuls, Churchill proclaims the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor "a winner."  A less vocal but equally determined anti-casino group in Schenectady doesn't share that sentiment. David Giacalone is main spokesperson for Stop The Schenectady Casino, which wants to preserve quality of life in the Stockade district.

"The reasons given by Chris, I thought, were rather weak. First he said there was strong local ownership in Schenectady, and as far as I know the Rush Street Gaming people do not give a chunk of their casino business to the local developer, or at most a tiny little slice of ownership. So I'm not too sure what Chris means by that. He also said that there's strong downtown support. But as far as we can tell, the so-called downtown merchant's support is led by a number of businesses that have been named to be partnering with Rush Street Gaming, so their enthusiasm is understandable."

Giacalone  thinks if the casino location board gives the Hudson Valley nod to Orange County, the Capital Region counterbalance will be accomplished by Howes Cave Resort and Casino. Giacalone adds Schenectady will be a winner regardless of whether a casino is sited along the river.     "The location, where the casino would go in has already been a site where $200 million is being invested to put in a marina, condos, office space, convention center, a hotel, etc."

State officials had said a final decision on siting casinos would be made by mid-October but hinted the process could stretch into November, sidestepping election day and whatever political fallout might occur as a result.

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.