Hundreds speak out on New York casino plans

COLONIE, N.Y. — Supporters and critics of proposals for an Albany area casino weighed in Monday at the first of three days of public hearings on casinos planned for upstate New York.

A state board reviewing 16 casino applications is expected to recommend up to four winners this fall, and supporters and opponents alike said this week’s public hearings may be their best chance to make their case.

Monday’s hearing at an Albany area hotel focused on four bids for a Capital Region casino. Hearings on Tuesday in Poughkeepsie and Wednesday in Ithaca will focus on proposals in the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes region.

Bus-loads of supporters of a proposal at Howe Caverns showed up to Monday’s event in bright yellow shirts. Backers of the Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady wore teal shirts and brought a cake featuring the casino’s rendering in frosting.

“It’s an investment Schenectady needs,” Schenectady Chamber of Commerce President Charles Steiner told the board, “that has the potential to shift our entire regional economy in a positive way.”

State Sen. James Seward, a Republican who represents the district including Howe Caverns, noted that the show cave’s casino proposal comes with a built-in tourist attraction in one of the Capital Region’s most economically depressed counties.

“Strong local government and local support — it’s all there in a package,” he said. “It’s ready to be constructed… We’re ready to rebuild our region’s economy.”

Most of the opposition so far has focused on the Capital View Casino proposed for East Greenbush in Rensselaer County. Dozens of residents held protest signs and told the board that a casino would lead to increased traffic, crime and other negative impacts.

“We are loud and we are forceful because we are determined,” said resident Elizabeth Wade.

Capital View’s backers included Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who said the project would create jobs for residents throughout the region while also brining new customers to local businesses.

The Hard Rock casino proposed for Rensselaer also attracted supporters who touted the project’s well-known brand and its location at the nexus of the Hudson River and the rail lines and interstates around Albany. “We’re in a crossroads and we can utilize that,” said David Scott Dwyer.

Tuesday’s hearing in Poughkeepsie will focus on the region that’s attracted the most interest from casino developers. Nine developers have proposed casinos in the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley, with six in Orange County, two in Sullivan and one in Ulster.

On Wednesday supporters and opponents will weigh in on the three proposals in the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes region, the area that’s attracted three proposals.

The five-member Gaming Facility Location Board is authorized — though not obligated — to recommend up to four proposals, meaning a single region could get more than one casino.

Board chairman Kevin Law says his panel has already received nearly 3,000 letters and emails from the public regarding the proposals.

“We have a tough decision,” he said.

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