Strong opinions, questions about the future and active listening marked a Tuesday night public forum in Lake George about the possibility of a live-table casino coming to the area.
More than 200 people filled the Fort William Henry Hotel & Conference Center to talk about the siting of live-table casinos, three of which are planned for upstate under a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. That proposal is part of a constitutional amendment that would allow for up to seven live-table non-Indian casinos in the state.
Despite the varying opinions of the speakers, almost everyone who got up to speak was recognized with a round of applause at the mostly congenial evening.
The Lake George community didn’t reach a consensus Tuesday night on this complicated issue, which Adirondack Pub and Brewery owner John Carr said wasn’t nearly as simple as “Red Sox or Yankees.”
Despite being opposed to gambling, Carr voiced support for doing something — possibly opening a casino — that would revitalize Lake George in the winter. His reluctance about a casino included a concern for small businesses that are trying to compete for tourism dollars.
“I wish it was a simple yes or no,” he said, before encouraging local politicians to continue to explore this issue.
More resolute on the issue was attorney Robert Sturges, who has strong ties to the casino industry, and painted a rosy picture about a casino in Lake George.
He described casinos as a legitimate form of mainstream entertainment that would have a positive economic ripple effect in the region. He predicted that a casino would employ 2,000 people directly and would create about 1,800 connected jobs. He acknowledged that like any major operation, such as Disney World, it would bring an increase in street crime.
Additionally, Sturges argued that Lake George wouldn’t become defined by a casino. “Just the opposite,” he said. “Lake George should always be the gateway to the Adirondacks.”
When asked about the possible investment the Lake George public would need to make in infrastructure upgrades to support a casino, Sturges promised any investment would pay off in the long run.
A major concern for local businesses is the impact a casino might have if it is built outside Lake George, but close enough to siphon off tourism dollars. Bill Manion, owner of Molly Malone’s Irish Gifts, said, “I don’t want to see [a casino] turned over to Saratoga right away.”
The Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County governments have both issued support for a live-table casino in the city. Additionally, Saratoga Springs is already home to electronic gaming at the Saratoga Casino & Raceway, which is lobbying to become a live-table casino.
Bill Dow, president of the Lake George Steamboat Company, speculated about where a casino would go in the Capital Region, giving voice to rampant speculation that has been prompted by the lack of specifics in Cuomo’s casino siting plan.
Dow added that it would be “short sighted” not to vie for a casino when neighboring communities might get an edge on Lake George.
A repeated concern was that a casino would erase Lake George’s reputation as a family destination. One speaker raised concerns about the casino benefiting from those who could least afford to gamble, while another speaker responded that people who couldn’t afford to gamble were already buying scratch-off tickets at the nearest convenience store.
Joanne Gavin argued that Lake George still wouldn’t be a winter destination with a casino because of the cold weather. “We don’t even want to get out of our cars to go to the post office,” she said.
Lake George Mayor Robert Blais, who organized the forum, said he expects another public meeting will be held in the near future. He lamented the fact that a study hadn’t been commissioned that could gauge the impact of a casino on a unique community like Lake George.
For the casino amendment to be enacted this year, it needs to be passed by the state Legislature before the session ends in June and then approved by the public in a statewide referendum.