I’ve got an answer for the question Sara Foss posed at the end of her March 16 story, “A good bet for old Alco site?”
Not a chance.
For those of you who haven’t read her piece; Sara weighed the positives and negatives of a casino being built at the former Alco site that starts at the corner of Erie Boulevard and Nott and rides up the Mohawk riverfront toward Glenville.
She concluded by asking readers, “. . . would [a casino] change the city in a mostly positive way?” This was meant to spur some thought-provoking debate among residents based on the arguments she made for and against a casino.
But her good reason/bad reason shtick only reminded me of when someone tries to play devil’s advocate, even though they know the opposing viewpoint is wrong. The argument ends up coming off forced and unconvincing.
And yes, I’m referring to the pro-casino argument.
Now Sara admitted to voting against the casino bill back in November, having an innate skepticism toward casinos, and in my opinion she made stronger points against one being built in Schenectady.
In essence, she pretty much answered her own question, but really wanted the readers to decide.
Sara believes a casino would be “transformative” for the city. Strictly speaking, from an industrial and business development perspective; one could argue that the city has been in a transformative state for at least a decade, if not longer.
Millions upon millions of dollars have already been put into downtown Schenectady. The revitalization of the area has been astounding and more is sure to come, with or without a casino.
Yet despite all of this, the city as a whole is in no better shape. Some could argue it is actually worse off.
After all, Schenectady is one of the most densely impoverished cities in New York, which is only exacerbated by its shrinking tax roll and high property taxes.
This is why I am completely unconvinced that the addition of a casino would bring any kind of economic prosperity to the city and its residents.
The job question
First, let’s invalidate the argument that the casino would bring more jobs to the city. Similar to what GE has done over the years, a casino would most likely relocate employees and hire workers from outside the city.
And the types of jobs we’re talking about are dealers, maids, waitresses, hostesses, cooks, etc. All in all, mostly low-wage jobs that offer little to no career promise.
Might a dozen or two Schenectadians get hired at the casino? Sure. Would it shrink the city’s high unemployment and poverty rates? Not likely.
Next we turn to sales tax revenue. No luck there.
Back in 2012, the City Council approved an eight-year sales tax deal with the county, which locks the city into a flat rate with only the potential of incremental growth based on the total growth of county-wide sales tax revenue.
If a casino opened its doors in Schenectady in five years, the city would still have to wait a couple of years to return back to the negotiating table with the county. Mind you, this is a table where the city has proven to have little to no leverage.
Well, then, maybe the city would financially benefit from a multi-million dollar casino being built on city ground. The property taxes alone would be immense.
If history is any indication, with Galesi and Metroplex involved, a PILOT agreement would most likely be made between the casino and the city. There’s no way to determine what the annual payment would potentially be to the city, but it could very well be a flat rate over a 20-year term. So even when Schenectady wins; it loses.
And while I’m on the topic of losing, let’s talk about the impact a casino would have on the portion of city residents that are poor, desperate and looking for an easy buck.
“The house always wins.” Most people have heard this truism before, and many of us who have gone to casinos have ignored the truth and wisdom behind such a powerful maxim.
Casinos prey on people who hope and believe that their luck is about to turn around. Plenty of residents are down on their luck and a casino would only help in pulling the rug out from underneath most of them.
You can argue all you want about the entertainment value a casino provides, but it is not entertaining to see someone kicked while they are down. The idea of seeing the CDTA bus boatloads of residents over to the casino, day in and day out, does not settle well with me.
Lastly and least importantly, can you imagine the amount of traffic and congestion a casino would cause in downtown Schenectady? Driving during peak hours is already painful enough, and the city can’t make the streets any wider.
For some of us, a casino is a getaway. It’s an excursion of gambling, entertainment and luxury. But when one is built in your own backyard, it becomes a grandiose monstrosity that you cannot escape.
Galesi is already moving forward this summer with a $150 million riverfront project consisting of a hotel, apartments and a supermarket. I look more forward to the completion of that project than any kind of supposed benefits a casino would be to Schenectady and its residents.
Robert Caracciolo lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.