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Upstate Casinos: Choosing Sides

Save East Greenbush

On Monday, Capital Region casino applicants presented their proposals to the New York State Gaming Commission’s location siting board. Politicians and citizens are lining up in support of particular venues.

The board heard Monday from four developers that want to build casinos in the greater Albany/Saratoga region. Applicants were given 45-minute blocks to show promotional videos, run through economic and revenue statistics and argue why they deserve a casino license.

All four pledged to serve the communities surrounding their sites.  All stressed location, ease of access, and promised tax relief plus hundreds upon hundreds of jobs to combat poverty.

Saratoga Casino Raceway & Capital View Casino and Resort presenters insisted their regional-themed venue planned for Rensselaer County would complement the existing Racino, not jeopardize it.

Save East Greenbush, the resident group opposed to the casino on Thompson Hill Road, says the developers’ presentation was filled with “lies by omission:” no mention of the pending lawsuit, controversial siting next to a Girl Scout Camp and high school, nothing about recent issues regarding Town Board support.  Cara Benson speaks for the group.  "One of the councilmembers, Maryanne Manders, withdrew her support. Another councilmember, Sue Mangold, is been forced into refusal due to a prohibitive conflict of interest. And that's another added cause of action to our lawsuit. None of those things were mentioned yesterday."

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan executed a non-exclusive community benefits agreement with the East Greenbush developers, citing the assurances of a dedicated $11 million funding stream for economic development in the city, along with jobs for Albany residents. Community and neighboring community support is seen as vital in the hunt for a casino license.

The Gaming Board members noted that the East Greenbush project was the only one facing some public opposition.

Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer believes Hard Rock Hotel & Casino proposed for the Rensselaer waterfront offers exactly what the Gaming Board is looking for: a strong name brand and a proven revenue-generator.

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.  Assemblyman Pete Lopez holds high hopes for the Howe Caverns project.  "In a region like ours, it really changes everything. it could change it for the better. It will change it for the better."

Gaming Board members weren't so sure about Howes' mixing family-oriented venues with gambling.

Officials representing the Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor touted Schenectady as "the biggest host community with the largest economic need."  Mayor Gary McCarthy pointed out that Schenectady is home to a chronically underfunded school district that is 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. "The addition of another 1,200 quality jobs will help Amsterdam fight the unemployment that plagues our city and Montgomery County."

Thane's blessing runs contrary to the Montgomery County Legislature, which voted to support the Howe Caverns casino project.

No public comments were heard during this meeting. 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.

Albany community advocate Marlon Anderson, a casino proponent, plans to speak up:   "When individuals like myself make public comment, I think that is going to be a very deciding factor in where the casinos go."

The board 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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