Would-be casino operator gives up on Rensselaer County plans

Penn National Gaming and The Cordish Cos. have abandoned a bid to land the state casino license dest

Penn National Gaming and The Cordish Cos. have abandoned a bid to land the state casino license destined for the Capital Region.

The companies intend to request a refund of their $1 million application fee for the Capital Region so that they can focus “undivided attention and resources” on an existing proposal for a casino in the Orange County village of South Blooming Grove. The decision eliminates what could have been a formidable proposal expected to land somewhere in Rensselaer County. “This was a very difficult decision to make, but one we think gives us the best opportunity to compete for one of New York’s limited new licenses, given the accelerated timetable and the depth of the application process,” Eric Schippers, Penn National’s vice president of public affairs, said in an email Wednesday.

Penn National and Cordish had scouted sites around Albany, as well as in the towns of East Greenbush and North Greenbush. The companies had also heavily courted U.W. Marx, the company developing de Laet’s Landing, a shovel-ready waterfront site in the city of Rensselaer.

“We’d particularly like to acknowledge [Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer], who is a great champion for his community and the potential casino site there,” Schippers said.

It’s unclear whether another casino operator will step in to make a pitch for the Rensselaer site, but the odds are looking slim. U.W. Marx Vice President Peter West could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Among the 22 entities that paid the $1 million application fee, three have now requested a refund. Last week, Pinnacle Entertainment — one company that scouted potential casino sites in the Albany region — and Rolling Hills Entertainment LLC asked for a refund of their casino application fee.

Other operators who paid the fee have already committed to sites elsewhere in the Capital Region. The Saratoga Casino and Raceway operators paid the fee twice for proposals they are pitching for East Greenbush and in Orange County.

In Cobleskill, the owners of Howe Caverns paid the $1 million to submit an application, though they have no intention of operating a casino themselves. The company continues to search for an operator, with the June 30 deadline for applications slightly more than a month away.

Clairvest, a Toronto-based private equity management firm, has backed a site near state Thruway Exit 27 in Montgomery County, while Global Gaming Solutions — the commercial arm of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma — is teaming with Flaum Management and Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp. to pursue a $300 million casino project off Thruway Exit 23. In Schenectady, Rush Street Gaming of Chicago is proposing a casino at the former American Locomotive Co. site owned by the Galesi Group.

“To the extent [Penn National and Cordish] are not competing, it’s one less competitor I guess,” said David Buicko, Galesi’s chief operating officer.

The Capital Region market isn’t nearly as lucrative as some of the sites downstate sites in the Hudson Valley-Catskills zone, which are expected to draw bettors from the New York City area. Casino operators vying for the Capital Region’s license also have to contend with potential payments to the Saratoga Casino and Raceway if the racino’s video lottery terminal revenue declines precipitously.

The gaming legislation passed by the state Legislature last year ensures the racino a guaranteed annual purse of at least $13.2 million, which was the amount won in 2013. Any dip in this sum must be compensated by the operator of the casino — something that did impact the decision by Penn National and Cordish to pull out of the Capital Region.

“Yes, that was a factor,” acknowledged Schippers, “but not the deciding factor.”

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