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Public Comment Period On Casino Proposals Underway

Three days of public hearings on casinos planned for upstate New York began today in Albany County.

The state gaming facility board tasked with picking the winning projects gathered input on four competing bids in the Capital Region, hearing from citizens, politicians and businesspeople, each speaker given 5 minutes to air concerns. Supporters of each proposal touted the economic benefits, while critics warned of crime, traffic and gambling addiction...  "If Albany wanted a casino they could have had their own casino. Instead, they're trying to siphon off the benefits of other municipalities...   You don't want to put the casino in the middle of nowhere where it's just going to affect the middle of nowhere. You don't want the casino on the top of a hill, where again it's not going to affect anyone. You wanna put it in a proper place and a proper location where the region can benefit from it...  As there is a correlation between problem gambling and mental health and substance abuse issues, it is clear that critical that New York mental health professionals anticipate and prepare for the growth of problem gaming among our state’s residents... It would lift them out of poverty and relieve some of the burden on some of the human service agencies."

There were unexpected moments during the hearing slated for 12 hours: one Schoharie County woman speaking about the proposal for Howe Caverns broke down in tears as she pleaded "we need jobs."   "I see them - some of my friends in yellow shirts and their homes and i think, 'how so we help them?' - you five have the opportunity to do that."

There were casino workers from faraway cities alleging mistreatment by their employers: "This company does not care about its workers"

The anti-casino group "Save East Greenbush" was the most vocal and most tenacious as commenter after commenter urged a NO to the casino proposed for Thompson Hill. Group spokesperson Cara Benson contends the town doesn't meet the financial requirements defined in the Upstate Economic Gaming Act.   "We're NOT a community in financial distress. We're a community that has poor town management that didn't listen to its voters."

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan weighed in from the flip side:  "The only applicant that has met the letter and spirit of Governor Cuomo's directive that casino projects target the areas of highest need is that of Capital View in East Greenbush..."    Sheehan was one of few commenters the panel kept a little longer for questioning -  

Board Member: "What do you say to those across the river who say 'you're leaving us with some of the detriments?'" 

Mayor  Sheehan:  "Those are the things that this committee and board have to consider. I am quite certain that you will be taking into consideration all of the impacts that a casino would have at each of the sites that are located in the region."

A panelist conceded the session so far had been "quite a learning experience" for the board, which is expected to announce its recommendations this fall.

There are up to FOUR casino licenses set to be awarded in THREE upstate regions

The Albany/Saratoga Area, the Catskills/Mid Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes.

The marathon hearing  runs until 8 tonight.  Another two public comment sessions are on tap: one tomorrow in Poughkeepsie and the other Wednesday in Ithaca...

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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