Local Assembly members to have voice on casinos

Local Assembly members recently appointed to the state Assembly’s Racing and Wagering Committee are

Local Assembly members recently appointed to the state Assembly’s Racing and Wagering Committee are looking to ensure a casino in Schenectady is successful.

Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, James Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, were named to the committee, which is chaired by Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon. Santabarbara said having local voices on the committee would be important as the casino project moves forward.

“I wanted to be on this committee because the casino is coming to Schenectady,” Santabarbara said. “The gambling industry is going to be part of the city now, and it will have a big impact. Local officials cleared the way to start working on this project; now the next part is to make sure that state officials and members of the community are involved.”

The state Gaming Facility Location Board recommended Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor for a casino license in December. The $330 million project is slated for the old Alco site between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River. It is expected to be up and running within two years.

Being part of the racing and wagering committee will enable local lawmakers to address issues and push legislation regarding the future casino in Schenectady, Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp. Santabarbara said that puts him in a better position to serve the community.

“I really want to focus on how the casino will be successful and how it will affect local small businesses like Proctors,” he said. “We want them to grow along with this project. This committee will give me better insight. If there is legislation introduced that affects the entire state, I also want to see how it will affect the casino in Schenectady.”

Tedisco, whose district mostly includes Saratoga County, said he would be keeping a close eye on the casino’s impact on Saratoga Casino and Raceway. A casino in Schenectady could drop the racino’s annual revenue by as much as 45 percent.

A decline in revenue would not only affect the racino, but also the city of Saratoga Springs, which receives about $2.8 million a year from the gaming facility.

“The first thing I want to ensure is that municipalities are not losing any revenue,” Tedisco said. “We want to keep that VLT funding continuous in regards to the racino. Any drop could affect the city and economic development there.”

Tedisco is also looking to ensure neighboring communities like Glenville would not be negatively impacted by increased traffic or flashy signs.

Glenville town Supervisor Chris Koetzle has expressed concern about a potential boost in traffic on Freemans Bridge Road once the casino is up and running. Koetzle is planning to pursue an independent traffic study to determine if the road needs widening.

“I want to make sure that the Freemans Bridge Road traffic studies are done right,” Tedisco said. “We also want to make sure that the signage is appropriate, because you are going to see the facility from over the bridge.”

Rivers Casino, a joint project between Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago, is projected to provide $4.1 million each to the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County and about $2 million to the Schenectady City School District. Tedisco said he hopes local officials use a significant portion of that funding to help reduce the area’s high property taxes.

“I think property taxes should be the No. 1 priority for municipalities,” he said. “Also, the governor says this will be a job creator and a revenue generator, and we want to ensure that jobs are provided to local residents.”

Carrie Woerner, a freshman Assembly member, said racing and wagering is a big part of the local economy. She said her top priority is to support racing in Saratoga and is unsure how a casino in Schenectady would affect the racetrack.

“We would have to see how the racino fits in side-by-side with the casino 20 miles away in Schenectady,” she said. “The racino has not expressed any concerns to me, but we have to make sure that the industry overall is strong in the state.”

As a member of the committee, Woerner said she is focused on a breeding program to ensure quality racing in Saratoga. She plans to meet with local breeders in coming weeks to hear their concerns and needs.

Santabarbara recently introduced legislation he says would build off the casino project in Schenectady to attract businesses and investors to the area. The measure would offer tax credits to a business or organization planning to invest in commercial properties in distressed areas with less than 1 million residents.

The upstate revitalization tax credit would be limited to existing commercial properties and properties eligible for commercial development. The credit would be set at 20 percent of expenses related to purchasing and rehabilitating the property. The maximum credit would be $200,000 for a single property. “We want the rest of the community to grow with the casino,” Santabarbara said. “Having this significant investment is a start, but there is a lot more to do. I think with having the casino as a destination, this legislation would build off of that. Nearby cities like Amsterdam could also benefit from this.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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