Possible Casino Sites Stir Conflict in New York

Developers looking at casinos close New York City have upstate bidders up in arms. They say the location is not in keeping with the “legislative intent” of the Governor Cuomo’s gaming law. Meanwhile, the five members of the Saratoga Springs, New York City Council have voted unanimously to oppose a casino in the historic racing community. It’s a turnabout in stance from 2012.

Now that Governor Andrew Cuomo has approved four casinos in upstate New York, potential locations are being discussed, with conflicting viewpoints from locals.

Council members in Saratoga Springs, New York, have come out against building a Vegas-style casino in the town. According to the Albany Times-Union, the four Democrats and one Republican “passed the measure to loud applause after about 90 minutes of contentious public comment” last week. It officially reverses the position taken by council in December 2012.

“The act does not provide for home rule, and introduces the possibility that local laws, ordinances and policies regarding land use could effectively be overridden, thereby diminishing the ability of the city’s citizens to duly and democratically shape the future of their own city,” the resolution stated.

The public came out in force to support both sides of the argument. “Casinos do not provide sustainable economies,” said resident Carol Obloy. “Gamblers give money to casino owners and casino owners take their money and run.”

Workers at the racino at Saratoga Raceway were equally vocal in their support a Class III license; the facility’s owners have announced plans for a multimillion-dollar expansion that includes a new hotel if they win one of four licenses available in upstate New York. The racino recently submitted an application to the New York State Gaming Commission for a review of its $30 million plan to add a 120-room hotel with spa, 24,000-square-foot event center, new restaurant and other amenities.

Interest among several developers in building a casino in Orange County, New York has prompted officials in Ulster County to come out in favor of building a casino at the old Nevele resort in Ellenville.

It also has lots of lawmakers, including those in Sullivan County, talking about “legislative intent”?hewing to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stated plan to locate the state’s first four Vegas-style casinos in areas that need economic development.

Orange County is much closer to New York City than other sites mentioned, including the Nevele, the old Concord Hotel, and the site of the former Grossinger’s resort. Cuomo has said he does not want a casino within the New York City boundaries in the first phase of his casino expansion plan. A casino within close proximity of the five boroughs could violate the spirit of the law, and prevent the more economically challenged areas from benefiting.

In addition, the Orange County developers are late to the game, according to the Hudson Valley Times Herald-Record; applications are due this month, and the first of the four casinos could open as early as 2015. “We’re way ahead of the game in Sullivan County,” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. “The governor wants a shovel in the ground. We are closest to that point here in Sullivan County.”

The state Senate last week approved Hobart and William and Smith Colleges President Mark Gearan as the chairman of the New York State Gaming Commission. At that hearing, State Senator John Bonacic, who helped develop the casino legislation, pointedly asked, “Would you try to fulfill the spirit … to help distressed regions?”

“Yes,” Gearan said. “Economic impact is a key driver. I respect that. My pledge to you is to bring integrity to the process, to bring transparency to the process.”

Sullivan County has hired a powerful lobbying firm to plead its case. Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman and Dicker, the highest paid firm in Albany, will be on the county payroll until December, at a retainer of $10,000 per month.

“We want to make sure Sullivan County is positioned to have a voice in Albany,” said Scott Samuelson, chairman of the Sullivan County legislature.

Also new to the bidding is a group that wants to build a new $200 million casino hotel at the site of the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa. The redevelopment hinges on approval of a gaming license, a resort official told the Kingston Daily Freeman.

“We do have a Plan B that’s not predicated on a casino, but at the moment, the plan we have set forth is with the intention for the casino,” said Eliot Spitzer (not the former New York governor). The proposed 130,000-square-foot hotel and conference center would be called the Granit at Hudson Valley Resort. It would include a 60,000-square-foot casino.

Joe Faraldo, attorney for the Monticello Raceway horsemen, is pushing for a Class III license there, and says other racinos in the state should be given due consideration, including Saratoga and Tioga Downs.

“Once they become a casino they can remove the VLTs and install slot machines,” Faraldo told the Daily Racing Form. “We’re offering numbers that only kick in when slots revenue hits certain plateaus.”

Back in Orange County, the villages of Harriman and Woodbury have been considered as possible casino sites. “Everything is here,” said Woodbury Mayor Michael Queenan. “To me, however, the biggest issue would be the traffic.”

Woodbury’s board will is expected discuss the proposal from the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies at its March 13. Harriman Mayor Steve Welle told the Orange County Photo News, “I have been contacted by the companies and the village board is now looking into it.”