As established casinos across the Northeast close their doors or administer cost-cutting measures, New York is just getting into the game. And although it won’t host a casino if its own, Albany has become a key player.
The mantra has been "jobs and the economy," and New York's capital is crossing its fingers, hoping for a windfall should a casino go up in nearby Rensselaer County.
Long before final word from the gaming commission, the casino siting process has local governments and residents taking positions and forming alliances to woo or shoo casino developers.
Albany's own casino project for Exit 23 got yanked by developer David Flaum, attracted to an apparently easier-to-implement Hard Rock Hotel & Casino project across the Hudson River in the city of Rensselaer.
This week, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Churchill Downs Incorporated, operators of the proposed $300 million Capital View Casino And Resort in East Greenbush, announced a non-exclusive deal that would send $11 million over 10 years into city coffers. The news came on the heels of Albany and Hard Rock failing to negotiate an exclusive agreement.
Former Albany County legislator Brian Scavo isn't thrilled about how the City of Albany would use any funds reaped from a casino agreement, which are going to the Capitalize Albany Corporation. "The proposed 1 million dollars a year for ten years should be earmarked for property tax relief for the people of Albany. Not economic development."
But Albany residents have been promised they could get up to 25 percent of the casino jobs that will be created in East Greenbush. Over in Troy, Mayor Lou Rosamilia managed to stay above the squabbling over casino dollars. "The only thing that we have done in the city of Troy, the city council passed legislation to support a casino if it would be located in the city of Rensselaer or in East Greenbush, and I signed on to that. I talked to Dan, the mayor of Rensselaer. There has never been any mention of any side deals or any money exchanged between the city of Troy and the city of Rensselaer."
But Saratoga Casino & Raceway has sweetened the pot: spokesperson Rita Cox is Senior Vice President of Marketing: "A partnership agreement with Troy Savings Bank Music Hall - a lot of cross-marketing, benefits for our guests, as well as helping promote the facility and sponsorship funds each year."
Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer told the Albany Business Review the developers of the Hard Rock are still in a strong position to win a state gambling license even without support from the City of Albany.
Resident group Save East Greenbush believes the deal struck between the developers of Capital View Casino and the City of Albany indicates a lack of regard for the citizens and businesses in their town. The group has fought tooth and nail against the proposal from the very start, questioning the estimates of jobs and revenue presented by the developer and the agreement with Albany, which the group feels eliminates the possibility of visitors patronizing any local businesses in East Greenbush.
But that's merely a "possibility." At a mayor's conference at Albany Law School back in February, Sheehan, making a case for downtown development over gaming, had this to say about casinos possibly benefiting local businesses: "You know you go to the casino in Niagara Falls, people drive in, go to the casino, they stay there, eat there, drink there and leave."
Besides the City of Albany, Capital View Casino & Resort has inked agreements with the Palace Theater, Times Union Center, Park Playhouse, Albany Symphony and the Albany Institute of History & Art.
Those accords depend on a casino actually coming to the area. The decision will be made by the state's Gaming Commission, which can award one Capital Region license and two Hudson Valley/Catskills licenses. Again, Rita Cox: "The presentations will be in front of the siting board on September 8th. And then the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on September 22nd. That's when they'll be having public hearings."
If a Capital Region casino is approved, it would come at a time, according to the New York Times, when the industry finds itself at a crossroads: "analysts, economists and casino operators warn that the industry is already suffering the effects of fierce competition, if not saturation."