The former Alco site along the Mohawk is probably as good a place for a casino as any that have been floated since the state decided to bestow one on the Capital Region. And since Gov. Cuomo refused to provide tax breaks for the film studio that was briefly penciled in for the site, a casino might make a sensible alternative. It’s certainly preferable to a big-box retailer that has apparently also made a pitch for the site.
We opposed the state’s casino plan from the get-go for any number of reasons, but like it or not, the Capital Region is getting one. Assuming that it will provide some economic benefit to its host city (and county), it makes more sense to put it in a depressed city like Rensselaer, Amsterdam or Schenectady than in a relatively wealthy one like Saratoga, which already has a viable slot-machine palace, two successful horse tracks and other attractions.
The Schenectady site would complement the Galesi Group’s ambitious Alco plan well enough — assuming people don’t mind living in apartments and condos built so close to a casino. It would also fit in nicely with the casino employee training program developed by the Schenectady County Community College. And it could benefit Proctors, provided the developer doesn’t build a competing performing arts space (and the one Galesi and Metroplex officials have in mind says he doesn’t plan to, and will work with Proctors). This would all be to the city’s benefit, as would generous host payments the state would likely make to the city.
The minuses are the ones associated with casino gambling everywhere, that would be writ large wherever the casino is built: residents getting hooked, gambling the rent money and in other ways neglecting their families, hocking their valuables or committing crimes to raise gambling money, spending less on other discretionary things.
The Capital Region casino will also provide competition for Saratoga horse racing operations that not only support people directly associated with the business, but the green space their farms occupy. There’s only so much money people can gamble, and the more they divert to blackjack or roulette, the less they’ll have for horses, slots or even lottery tickets.
The Capital Region casino is likely to be modest in size — not a Vegas-style giant. That, plus the fact that so many of New York’s neighbors have legalized casino gambling, probably means that most of the casino’s players — sheep to be shorn — will be from around this region. So while the operation will raise money for the state, and make some developers and maybe even a few players rich, it will also make a lot of people — locals — poor. That’s why, on balance, we opposed the constitutional amendment, and continue to.
The people of Schenectady County also voted against the thing, and that shouldn’t be forgotten in this rush. At the very least, the City Council and county Legislature need to weigh the idea and hold public hearings before voting on it — not that such opinions should be binding on the state siting committee but part of their consideration if an application is forthcoming.