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Developers Pitch Upstate NY Casino Projects


On Monday, the four Capital Region casino applicants appeared in Albany to present their proposals to the New York State Gaming Facility Location Board.

With gamblers seemingly preferring to visit smaller casinos closer to home, the presentations four developers delivered before the New York State Gaming Commission’s location siting board offered practical mid-size packages.    "We are committed to developing the best site there is in a way that best serves this community, its citizens and its economic goals"

Bill Carstanjan is Chief Operating Officer of Churchill Downs, which has partnered with Saratoga Casino and Raceway for an East Greenbush proposal. Carstanjan echoed what all four of the developer groups say they are compelled to honor if chosen to build a Capital Region casino.

All stressed location, ease of access, and offered what they determined to be acceptable proof that their site is best suited to building a gaming hall.   Pitching for Saratoga Casino and Raceway & Capital View Casino and Resort, Michael Pollock stressed the importance of "unified ownership," having two gaming properties, under a "unified structure."     "Now unified ownership of gaming in one region is neither unusual nor is it undesirable.”

The Saratoga presenters, who had plans for an expanded casino in the Spa City dashed, insisted their Rensselaer County venue would complement the existing Racino, not jeopardize it by offering a regional gaming establishment.  The so-called "cannibalization" effect on Saratoga came up several times as the afternoon progressed.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino proposed for the Rensselaer waterfront would be international as opposed to regional, according to Hard Rock CEO James Allen.    "People will travel the globe to find and explore the music memorabilia that we own. It is the world's most valuable and largest collection of music memorabilia."

Gaming board members seemed to doubt the facility could attract in the neighborhood of 35 percent of its customers from distances more than 90 miles away, but Hard Rock officials believe their brand can beat every other competitors’ gaming revenue projections. 

All of the teams, including Hard Rock, factored "poverty" into the casino equation.    "Look at the local area, the direct local area where the project will be: Rensselaer and the five adjacent wards in Albany...  29 percent of those residents currently live in poverty. Just to put that in context, that's more than double the poverty rate in both Albany and Schenectady counties."

Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer believes Hard Rock offers exactly what the Gaming Board is looking for: a strong name brand and a proven revenue-generator.    "That's what the state is lookin' at. How is it gonna help the state, how is it gonna help our city, et cetera. And I think that's a proven fact what's gonna happen."

Howe Caverns Resort & Casino's developers stressed "community connection" and promised a family-friendly complex that would include a water park. They cited economic hardship throughout the Schoharie Valley exacerbated by Hurricane Irene. Schoharie County resident Susan McGiver:   "Ever since shopping centers raised their lovely heads, in Schoharie alone, we lost our grocery store, our news store, our movie theatre, our drug store, our dress shop, and basically our whole downtown."

McGiver says the casino will revitalize the area and save the economy by providing many jobs and convince young people to stay in the valley.

Gaming Board members weren't so sure about Howes' mixing family-oriented venues with gambling.  Alicia Terry is the director of planning for the Schoharie county planning and development agency.   "We're looking at this casino siting as being something that again will create synergies within our assets and create jobs and employment opportunities for our county."

Officials representing the Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor said "Schenectady is the biggest host community with the largest economic need."  Mayor Gary McCarthy contends poverty disproportionately affects his city's youngest residents.    "According to a ranking of community affluence by the Buffalo Business Journal, out of 861 upstate cities towns and villages surveyed, Schenectady ranked 816th, in comparison to Rensselaer which was 437, Cobleskill 210 and East Greenbush was 40th."

McCarthy also mentioned Schenectady is home to a chronically underfunded school district, the largest urban district in the Capital Region.  On hand, Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane, who last faced the board when a casino proposal for her city was turned down, pledged her full support for the Schenectady casino.

Last week, the Montgomery County Legislature voted to support the Howe Caverns casino project.  The Gaming Board members did take note that the East Greenbush project was the only one facing some public opposition.

And at least one developer was caught off-guard when a board member asked if numbers and projections they were providing had taken into account the scenario of another casino going up in a nearby community. Remember, there are FOUR casino licenses available to be granted upstate for THREE regions: Albany-Saratoga, Catskills/Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier, so one of those regions could get TWO casinos.

All developers promised job creation ranging from around 1,600 to in excess of 2,400, a far cry from Schenectady Mayor McCarthy's contention that the Electric City needed to make up for 24,000 GE jobs lost between 1974 and 2004.

No public comments were heard. Three additional public meetings on the proposals are scheduled for later in the month in Albany, Poughkeepsie and Ithaca to allow for public comment on the proposals.

The board was hearing Hudson Valley proposals Tuesday. It will announce its recommendations this 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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