Siting a casino at the soon-to-be shuttered Mount McGregor Correctional Facility may seem like a farfetched idea, but it’s one that’s being endorsed by local officials.
Members of the Moreau Town Board are appealing to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the operators of Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino to consider the sprawling 1,200-acre property for the one casino that is slated to be built in the greater Capital Region. Board members adopted a resolution during their organizational meeting this week in support of establishing a Las Vegas-style casino in the town.
Supervisor Preston Jenkins said the Mount McGregor site would be ideal for one of the casinos, since the prison is located a short distance away from two exits on the Northway and isn’t near any residential properties. He said bringing a casino to the old prison would also bring needed jobs to an area smarting from the positions that will be lost when Mount McGregor is closed in late July.
“It’d be a great site for a resort and casino,” he said. “Some people ask what makes me think it can happen. I say, why can’t it happen?”
Town officials have already relayed the idea to Empire State Development, the state agency in charge of finding a new purpose for the site. And they’ve also reached out to Mohegan Sun, a Connecticut-based casino operator that had a proposal to build a casino outside of Boston shot down by Massachusetts voters last fall.
“We know they’re looking to expand,” he said.
Jenkins also sees problems with an expected proposal to site one of the gaming facilities at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which is already set to undergo a $30 million expansion. He said 55 percent of voters in Moreau supported the expansion of casino gambling in November’s referendum, while 57 percent of Saratoga Springs residents opposed it.
“I think it’d get a lot of support here,” he said. “We have a site that’s not going to generate a lot of complaints. It’s out there all by itself and halfway up a mountain.”
Of course, there’s no assurance Saratoga County will get the one casino slated for the Capital Region, even though it seems like a likely spot for one. The legislation approved by state voters in November became law on New Year’s Day, meaning the state Gaming Commission can now appoint a five-member board to select locations for four casinos.
An official with Cuomo’s office said the commission is now reviewing potential members for the board, though there is no statutory deadline for them to be named. Once established, the board will issue a request for applications to prospective operators, then evaluate the responses.
The selection process requires prospective casino operators to submit applications for gaming facility licenses. The four operators will be chosen based on a variety of factors, including how many jobs their proposal anticipates creating, the amount of capital investment planned, the level of revenue expected to be generated for the state and financing availability.
Other lesser factors include the level of local support for a casino, the number of amenities included in the proposal, how the facility will integrate with regional tourism, the experience in gaming development of the operator and the speed with which the project can be constructed. State officials have said all applications will be weighted the same and no one operator has an inside track on landing a casino.
Last July, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced plans to close four prisons, including Mount McGregor, a medium-security facility that houses about 450 inmates. The closure also means the loss of about 320 jobs for the area.
The Mount McGregor site is split among three towns: Moreau, Wilton and Corinth. Late last year, a regional parks commission recommended that the undeveloped property of the Mount McGregor site be added to the nearby Moreau Lake State Park.
Wilton Supervisor Art Johnson said his first choice for a casino would be at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs. But if the city is opposed to establishing a casino there, he said he would certainly back the concept of building one at Mount McGregor.
“If that’s not going to be the site and they’re looking for another site in Saratoga County, I think the Mount McGregor property should be considered,” he said.
Johnson suggested the property could be split, with the old prison buildings going to a casino developer and the vacant land being used for parkland. He was unsure whether a developer would be interested in retrofitting the prison to be a casino.
“It could probably be done,” he said. “But not without a lot of money.”