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Casinos: Talk Of The Towns (And Cities)

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

It's shaping up to be a busy week for burgeoning casino plans in Albany, East Greenbush, Schenectady. 

About 500 people showed up at Columbia High School in East Greenbush in Rensselaer County Monday night to hash out their concerns with having a casino in their backyard.  In April, the town board voted unanimously to support a casino project, even though it didn’t yet have a reason to assume a casino would be built there. Last week, it was revealed that Kentucky-based gaming giant Churchill Downs partnered with Saratoga Casino and Raceway, hoping to land one of the four casino licenses to be handed out by New York State.

Snyders Lake resident Rob Smith spoke at the meeting, his remarks recorded by NewsChannel 13.   "Every study I have read of casinos coming into areas like this indicate that it will increase crime. It increases crime against property, burglaries, increases spousal abuse, it increases embezzlement."

At the meeting, senior vice president of marketing for Saratoga Casino and Raceway Rita Cox continued to portray the project as "an economic game-changer" for the town, Rensselaer County and East Greenbush. Some 1,700 fulltime jobs are promised.

Credit Patricia Fahy's Twitter feed
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan

Across the river, the developers of the proposed casino off Thruway Exit 23 have done some partnering of their own: according to the Times Union, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the developers have selected the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma to run the proposed E23 casino.  The tribe’s Global Gaming Solutions is big name in the casino industry.

Earlier this year, Sheehan was cool to the idea of a casino in the capital city, telling a "Mayor's Forum" audience at Albany Law School she felt Albany's development plan for downtown presented a much more attractive package than any casino.  "You know you go to the casino in Niagara Falls, people drive in, go to the casino, they stay there, eat there, drink there and leave."

At the same event, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren explained she was against building casino in her city after taking at look west to Buffalo.    "Around the casino there's no life... you have a hotel but as far as restaurants, as far as any other development, it does not spark economic development."

Former Congressman Bob Steele represented Connecticut in the early 70's. The Republican tells WAMC New York might learn from the Nutmeg State's casino experience. As more gambling halls are built, there is less revenue to share.   "Connecticut's casinos are laying off workers. They're turning increasingly to part time jobs to reduce wage costs and eliminate benefits. Foxwoods has defaulted on a half billion dollars worth of its debt. New Jersey's casinos are doing even worse. Revenue is down 45 percent. In Delaware the state is considering a 20 Million dollar bailout for their three casinos in order to forestall layoffs."

Hover and click to ENLARGE.

Steele, who speaks in Albany on Thursday, adds the presence of casinos has created a gambling culture that has skewed the region's economy toward low-paying service jobs and has resulted in a spike in problem and pathological gamblers.

Activist Jonathan Capra has ties to OccupyAlbany. He says the casino issue is multi-layered with many bullet points, but promises of jobs to residents of depressed Albany neighborhoods may be empty. Capra recounts an experience at a developer's meeting.    "One gentleman who identified himself as being from the Arbor Hill area gave a passionate speech about how important it was to bring jobs to his community. Then, after going out for some fresh air, I found he had anew interaction where someone tipped him to the fact that likely he would not be allowed anywhere near a casino job because of having a felony on his record. That was a distressing thing to watch, to see these ideas of jobs jobs jobs dangled in front of somebody and moments later have that rug pulled out from under them. I don't think that anecdote is gonna be unique."

A criminal record of any kind, a poor credit score, lack of employment history — all are valid reasons an employer can cite for not hiring an individual.   Capra says there is "no lesser of two evils" when it comes to location. An East Greenbush casino would be just as detrimental as an Albany casino. Tuesday morning, Schenectady plunges deeper into the waters. Rush Street Gaming of Chicago is joining with the Galesi Group in a bid to build a casino along the Mohawk River front on the old ALCO site, to be called "River's Casino at Mohawk Harbor."

Other sites vying for the Capital Region casino license are Howe Caverns in Schoharie County, a site on the Hudson River in the city of Rensselaer and a Montgomery County location.

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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