Casino supports minority vendors

If you’re a local minority- or woman-owned enterprise and want to do business with the casino planne

If you’re a local minority- or woman-owned enterprise and want to do business with the casino planned along the Mohawk River in Schenectady, you’d better hurry up and get certified by the state.

That wasn’t the verbatim message offered to a standing-room-only crowd of prospective vendors, but it’s close.

The company behind the proposed Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, which could open with Las Vegas-style gaming as soon as early 2017, organized back-to-back days of informational meetings last week for businesses and workers who want to cash in on the new entertainment venue.

At a packed session Friday afternoon, representatives from Rush Street Gaming ran down a list of must-haves for minority- and woman-owned firms wanting to do business with the casino. Price, quality and service will be important.

“We are committed to vendor diversity,” Leigh Whitaker, vice president of communications with the company’s SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, told the crowd.

She mentioned that in addition to minority- and woman-owned business enterprises — so-called MWBEs — the company also was looking for veteran-owned firms.

That’s not just a do-gooder spirit: A 30 percent MWBE vendor goal likely will be written into the state’s final gaming facility licenses for the new upstate casinos. Licenses could be awarded by late September.

New Yorkers approved a state constitutional amendment in 2013 to allow casinos; a year later, three sites were selected (a fourth is pending) by a board that evaluated 17 proposals.

Rush Street Gaming’s $300 million Schenectady casino was among those picked. It will be part of Galesi Group’s $150 million Mohawk Harbor project, which will resurrect the former Alco industrial site along Nott Street for residential and commercial use.

During the process of seeking casino proposals, the Gaming Facility Location Board rejiggered its request for applications to emphasize a successful proposal “will include a meaningful opportunity for state-certified MWBE businesses to participate in the development, construction and operation of the gaming industry.”

In a final report earlier this year, the board recommended the state Gaming Commission require casino operators “match or exceed” the new goal set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of 30 percent MWBE participation on state contracts. He has raised the participation goal twice while in office.

It behooves Rush Street Gaming to let MWBEs know about vendor opportunities at the casino. To that end, Lourdes Zapata, executive director of the state’s Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development, attended the Friday afternoon vendor fair geared to MWBEs.

She was “impressed” with Rush Street’s commitment to a 30 percent MWBE goal for the casino and urged business owners in the audience to become state-certified, which can be done online through her office. The website also connects to a searchable statewide directory of certified MWBEs.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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