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New York Board Reveals Winning Proposals for Casino Resorts

WAMC composite image by Dave Lucas

Word today that Schenectady has won the Capital Region casino race also means proposals for East Greenbush, Rensselaer and Howe’s Caverns are off the table. The decision ends an often bitterly contested, months-long campaign.

The long-awaited announcement from the state’s Gaming Facility Location Board came shortly after the board convened Wednesday afternoon in Albany.   "In the Capital Region, this board recommends Rivers Casino and Resort" applause;cheers

And so it is: Schenectady joins and Sullivan and Seneca counties, selected as sites for casinos in upstate New York, ending months of fierce competition among 16 developers and job-hungry communities that jockeyed for favor by securing agreements with neighboring communities and demonstrating a need for jobs. The board also gave the thumbs-up to the Lago Resort in the Finger Lakes region and the Montreign Resort Casino proposal in Thompson in Sullivan County.

The facilities were intended to create thousands of jobs in depressed areas and needy communities across the state, while generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenues. Developers promised the $150 million "Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor" would include a hotel and TV studio along with residential and commercial space.

Saratoga Casino and Raceway partnered with Kentucky-based gaming giant Churchill Downs as developers of a proposal for East Greenbush, which met with some of the strongest opposition to any of the gaming proposals despite securing a deal with neighboring Albany. The Hard Rock casino proposal in Rensselaer struck a similar deal days before Wednesday’s meeting.

David Giacalone leads the group opposed to the Schenectady Casino. He took the news with a grain of salt.    "We believe Schenectady is strong and creative and capable enough to have continued its revitalization without inviting the problems that are likely to come with a casino. However, our hope is that the city and county of Schenectady will work closely with the casino operator, affected neighborhoods and interested community and business groups to limit the potential adverse effects that a casino is likely to have on our community."

The Howe Caverns Casino and Resort in Cobleskill was viewed by observers as the "longshot" in the Capital Region casino race.  The city of Albany experienced periods of highs and lows that began with a casino proposal for the old Tobin Meat Packing Plant site. When that project fell by the wayside, another emerged for a casino and water park near Thruway Exit 23. At one point, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said developers had selected the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma to run the proposed E23 casino.

But then, Sheehan announced the project had fallen apart. Days later, Schenectady took that key step forward, heralding a proposed casino complex at the old ALCO site along Erie Boulevard.

In the ensuing months, Albany and Mayor Sheehan vied for a piece of the financial windfall sure to come with a casino, first striking a deal with East Greenbush, then Rensselaer, to share the spoils. That's history now.   "I look forward to working with Rivers Casino to ensure that as jobs become available and as tourists arrive that Albany residents and our entertainment venues share in the economic benefits of the casino. This whole effort around casinos is about economic development, and we're a very important part of the equation."

Sheehan says she hadn't built any casino money into the city budget, but expects the new Albany Convention Center will benefit from the presence of the Schenectady gaming facility.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara of the 111th district represents a large portion of Schenectady. He sees the casino as a catalyst for economic and social revival not only for Schenectady, but the entire Capital Region.   "It's going to really encourage people to come back to upstate cities, give them a second look, and see all that we have to offer. "

But hang on, we're not at the finish line yet: Background checks and environmental reviews must be completed, and the licenses must be formally awarded by the state's Gaming Commission. There's also the chance lawsuits will be filed by local opponents concerned about traffic, environmental effects, zoning and the effects of expanded gambling.

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