Notes highlight East Greenbush casino concerns

Town officials discussed ways to curb “negative” public opinions about a proposed casino when the is

Town officials discussed ways to curb “negative” public opinions about a proposed casino when the issue was discussed at Town Board meetings in April and May, according to meeting notes released Wednesday.

In notes dated April 29, the town clerk wrote, “Do just one [public hearing] — any more continues to promote ‘negative’ side more than anything like E23” and that the meeting should be hosted by a public relations firm so it can “take the heat.”

Operators of Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Churchill Downs of Kentucky are proposing a 100,000-square-foot casino on Thompson Hill off exits 8 and 9 of Interstate 90. The site would also include a 150-room hotel, 20,000 square feet of retail space, several restaurants and two parking garages.

Plans for a proposed casino in Albany off Exit 23 of the Thruway, nicknamed E23, deteriorated following issues with the site and lack of support among local officials. The operators are now pursuing a casino in the city of Rensselaer.

Notes from the East Greenbush Town Board’s April and May discussions of the casino project were released by the town in compliance with a Freedom of Information Law request. The notes offer a glimpse into town officials’ plans for public hearings over the casino proposal.

“Anticipating this being a headline and want to get positive out there,” the notes said.

During a news conference Wednesday morning in Albany, Rita Cox of Saratoga Casino and Raceway said the notes show the operators are talking about the plans and concerns about the project.

“I think the notes show exactly what was asked of us,” she said. “That was to meet with local officials and meet with community members and talk about the plans and talk about any concerns.”

There have been four meetings where members of the public were allowed to comment on the project, on May 19 and 21 and June 4 and 12. The notes also suggest another public meeting will be held after the operators submit the casino application on June 30.

In notes taken May 9, it is recorded that Saratoga Casino and Raceway minority owner James Featherstonhaugh is concerned “heavy traffic deters return guests.” Traffic is highlighted as his biggest worry.

Other potential negative impacts of a casino in East Greenbush, including crime and gambling addiction, were pushed aside as “myths.” The notes say “high security” would ensure crime does not escalate on the site and that the “biggest type of addict is sports gamblers.”

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