Montgomery County

Amsterdam council backs casino resort plan

The Amsterdam City Council approved a resolution in support of a proposed casino resort Tuesday nigh
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The Amsterdam City Council approved a resolution in support of a proposed casino resort Tuesday night, but to move forward with plans, the project’s developers are asking the state Gaming Commission for a helping hand.

Clairvest Group Inc. and Great Canadian Gaming Corp., the developer and operator of the proposed casino, are asking the state Gaming Commission to amend the casino application guidelines that were released earlier this year.

Jeff Parr, Clairvest Group’s chief executive officer, said to move forward with the project they need the state Gaming Commission to slash the casino licensing fee in half, to $25 million. The casino’s operators have said they will pay an increased tax rate on slot machines if they are awarded the casino license. A casino in the Capital Region would pay a tax rate of 45 percent, but the operators are willing to pay at a 48-percent rate. Parr said that in the long run the state will actually recoup more funds.

In addition, the group needs a 60-day extension on the application deadline. They say they are asking for the extension because the companies had to reconfigure their plans to adjust to the spending requirements that the Gaming Commission released on May 12. Full applications are due June 30.

“We are asking to be treated more like Broome or Tioga County, not like Albany or Rensselaer,” said Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, while speaking in an auditorium at Lynch Middle School. Casino licenses in less populated areas in the state such as Tioga and Broome counties cost $35 million.

The vice president of development for Great Canadian Gaming, Terrence Doyle, said his team is not looking for a “break.” He believes the casino siting process has been rushed and extensions should be given to all bidders.

County officials believe the Gaming Commission set the licensing fee too high for economically downtrodden regions of the state to remain in the casino competition.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Montgomery County’s median household income is nearly 26 percent below the state median. In Rensselaer and Schenectady — two communities where casino plans have been made public — the median household income is two percent above the state median. Montgomery County also has the highest property tax burden of any community competing for a casino.

Ossenfort admitted that when he learned about the project he was skeptical, but after hearing about the number of jobs that would be created he was quick to jump on board and support the proposal.

Five bids for casino licenses have materialized in the Capital Region, stretching from East Greenbush to Cobleskill.

The decision by the Amsterdam City Council provides the Gaming Commission and its siting board with the prerequisite local support needed for a license to be issued. On Monday night the Florida Town Board passed a similar resolution supporting the gaming development that would house 1,250 slot machines and 40 table games.

“We need the jobs, and we need the economic development,” said City Council member Edward Russo.

The casino’s operators promised it will generate 450 construction jobs and 850 permanent jobs with an average annual salary of $42,000.

The three-phase project would sit on about 500 acres of land and would straddle the city of Amsterdam and the town of Florida. The $250 million proposal includes a gaming hall, a hotel, a farmers market, two 18-hole golf courses and 200 residential units.

Both the Clairvest Group and Great Canadian Gaming are experienced casino operators. Combined they own or operate 39 gaming facilities that include racetracks, slot machine parlors and table games.

The proposed Montgomery County casino promises to deliver $11.4 million in gaming revenue to the host communities. The city of Amsterdam would receive $1 million, which is 17.5 percent of its current property tax revenue. Montgomery County would receive $5.7 million, and the town of Florida would get $4.7 million.

Ossenfort said the casino could turn around the area’s struggling economy. The county has a 7 percent unemployment rate and 19 percent poverty rate, both above state averages.

After listening to a presentation from the operator and developer, the public was allowed to comment on the proposal. Speaking in front of roughly 150 people, Mike Wieszchowski, who owns a day spa in Johnstown and lives in Amsterdam, expressed concerns his bottom line may take a hit if a casino is sited near downtown Amsterdam.

“I wanted to know if I could work with the casino,” said Wieszchowski, who added, however, that he is a supporter of the proposal.

Doyle responded by saying they could speak one-on-one after the meeting to discuss business plans.

Mark Kowalczyk, an Amsterdam resident, said when he first heard about the casino he had some doubts, but they were alleviated during the presentation.

“I am in support of the project,” he said, “but we need to take the necessary steps to make sure it is a success and to make sure Amsterdam does not turn into Atlantic City.”

City Council member Valerie Beekman, the only person on the five-member council to oppose the plan, said she is concerned that only the immediate area surrounding the casino will benefit. She said she wants to make sure that the casino would help the whole city.

But, she added, “I will get there, and eventually I will come around and support it.”

Ossenfort said he expects to sit down with members of the Gaming Commission sometime this week to discuss the project.

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