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From Electric City to Vegas East?


Just days after a casino proposal for Exit 23 in Albany collapsed,  Schenectady has taken a key step in luring Vegas-style gambling to the city.  

It's Schenectady's turn at bat to bare plans for acquiring that coveted casino license for the Capital Region. And it seems to come at precisely the right time.  Mark Mellman, CEO of The Mellman Group, believes America is experiencing an increased acceptance of gaming while municipalities have a clear sense of the economic relief casinos can bring. His firm partnered with another pollster, Public Opinion Strategies: the two gathered data for an American Gaming Association poll that found most folks favor casino gaming.  "By a ratio of 2 to 1, 48 per cent to 24 percent, people have a favorable image of the casino gaming industry. Those favorable views really cut across demographics of all kinds. There's really no group that has an unfavorable view."

The poll comes at a time when regional voters aren’t so sure. Several New York communities voted against November’s casino ballot question, and polls have showed uncertainty in Massachusetts, which is poised to issue its first licenses even as the issue might be headed back to the ballot this fall.

But 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:   "You know 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."

Prior to the vote, there was a public comment period where people voiced the pros and cons of hosting a casino in or near a municipality, everything from tax revenue and economic benefits to crime and gambling addiction.  One citizen opposed to a Schenectady casino told local media, "It's mostly going to be taking money from the poorest people and from problem gamblers and from a lot of elderly people."

Glen Bolger is with Public Opinion Strategies. "There is a small slice of the casino customer who is not always responsible with their gaming. That' something we're concerned about and something we've done our best and will be doing more to assist in."

Developers expect the "Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor" would include a hotel and TV studio along with residential and commercial space.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy says when it comes to a Capital Region casino, the possibility of establishing a gaming facility in the electric city cannot be overlooked.   "The rules that they've put there really gives the host community all the benefits, so that we're looking to again pursue that option and what the city council did last night is the next step in that process."

The Schenectady County Legislature held a public hearing on the issue last week, but is opening its doors to public comment this evening at 7.  It's expected that lawmakers will pass a resolution supporting the casino project.

Casino plans in Rensselaer and Cobleskill have already received resolutions of support.

Farther west, two Canadian firms are partnered in a venture that would site a casino just off the New York State Thruway. The so-called "Exit 27" plan would span 512 acres in the Town of Florida and city of Amsterdam, two financially depressed municipalities that stand to share an economic boost reckoned to be more than $6 million annually.

Albany dropped its plan for a casino when the developer decided the site known as E23 was not as desirable at second glance.  East Greenbush is expected to vote on a casino proposal later this month. Applications come due June 30th.

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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