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NY Gov's Flip Rekindles Casino Hopes

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WAMC composite image by Dave Lucas
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Public officials in areas denied casinos have begun to raise their voices. This comes on the heels of Governor Andrew Cuomo's letter to the state Gaming Commission, urging the panel to reopen bidding for a casino in the Southern Tier. New hopes have emerged for two failed projects.

The shovels haven't hit the ground yet, and if Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer has his way, they won't, at least not in Schenectady, where the Rivers project cleared a key preliminary step en route to winning the license outright on December 17. Dwyer is asking for a do-over on the entire casino siting process.  Dwyer faxed a three-page letter to Cuomo Monday, asking for the governor’s intervention.  Dwyer wants to see the Gaming Facility Location Board's scorecard after Rensselaer’s Hard Rock bid fell short.  "We had the site right across from the Capitol. We had the name 'Hard Rock' and we had the income level higher than anyone else by $80 million, and that's money to the state coffers. We have the need, we fulfill that, and we have the support. I'm tryin' to get the scorecard, that's all I'm askin' - to see how we failed."

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Voters last year authorized up to four casinos to be divided among three upstate regions: the Albany-Saratoga area, the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes region and the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley.

That "scorecard" is supposed to be released in mid-January.

Specifically, Dwyer is asking the governor to order the Rivers decision set aside, appoint a new panel of upstate citizens and conduct a second review with the new siting board.  A Cuomo spokesman pointed out that none of the original board panelists lived in areas that were eligible for consideration to receive a casino, a direct move to ensure an impartial decision.    "I'm not sayin' 'sour grapes,' believe me. I just take a look and say 'if I'm gonna go down I'll go down fighting' but I'd like to have some answers as to where we failed."

Dwyer’s incredulous that a venue under the brand "Hard Rock" could be passed by.     "Hard Rock is the only one that'll compete with the MGM Grand over in Springfield to keep the revenue stream in New York."

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy did not return a call for comment.

An hour's drive down through the Hudson Valley, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein is disappointed by the Location Board's decision to deny a bid by the Nevele Resort, Casino & Spa in Wawarsing.  

Michael Hein
Credit Hank Gross
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Ulster County Executive Mike Hein

Hein said  "I firmly believe that having two licenses in the Catskills is important, and they can be very, very successful. I believe it provides greater access to the 22 million people in the metro New York area.  And I also believe circumstances have now changed that Orange County and the multiple applications that were in Orange County are not in play any longer.”

Dave Lucas:  "Do you think that Governor Cuomo changed the dynamic by stepping into the Southern Tier casino frey?

Mike Hein: "No, I think the governor's doing what he believes. He believes, he has an opinion on this issue, and obviously I have great respect for the governor and his actions."

Nevertheless, Hein wishes the Gaming Commission would reconsider issuing the Catskills just one license.

"I think it's critically important that we take every step possible in making sure that people understand that the Nevele project would provide real benefit not just to Ulster County, but to the entire Hudson Valley and ultimately all of New York State. We understand the work of the commission is not an easy one. There's a great deal of pressure being placed I'm sure upon their decision-making process all the way through this. But the reality is, these are tough choices, there's a limited number of licenses, it's a huge state and it's a very big issue to many communities."

It's likely more disgruntled officials will speak out now that Governor Cuomo has injected himself into the casino siting process with his suggestion the board take a second look at the Southern Tier.

The Cuomo administration directed a call for comment to the governor's letter on the Southern Tier issue, which can be viewed here.

Background checks of winning casino applicants must be conducted by the gaming commission and the New York State police before any final decision can be made.

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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