After months of speculation, the criteria for applicants wishing to open one of New York’s four upstate casinos were released Monday, and despite weighing in at a seemingly complex 80 pages, the basics appear to be fairly simple, straightforward and likely to produce the best outcomes.
For starters, the million-dollar ante (application fee), and licensing fees as high as $70 million, are steep enough to discourage any casual players. Only the serious and well-financed need apply.
The requirement for prospective operators to obtain the support of their local legislative bodies ensures that no community will get a casino rammed down its throat. And that’s important because a casino, for all the jobs and economic development it might provide a community, can also have a disruptive influence. This was the case in Saratoga Springs several years ago when the state expanded the racino operation at the harness track over locals’ objections. Perhaps not coincidentally, members of the current City Council are withholding support for the full-scale casino application at the site, forcing the presumed applicants to sell them on the plan first.
Finally, the criteria established to determine winning entries seem clearly — and properly — weighted: Fully 70 percent of the decision will be based on economic impact, 20 percent on the degree of local support beyond the host municipal government, and 10 percent on the use of local labor. Economic need is probably the best reason to choose one site over another, and why an application in a community like Schenectady, Albany or Rensselaer would make more sense than one, say, in Saratoga Springs. Indeed, a casino in Saratoga might actually hurt the city’s other gambling enterprises, those involving horses.
As for the application deadline imposed by the Gaming Commission, it's tight — just three months. Presumably, some of the prospective applicants have already been working on their proposals and can intensify their efforts now that more details are known. But for counties like Schenectady and Albany, where local governments have yet to decide on preliminary casino plans but where voters last fall narrowly opposed the casino amendment, it’s time to get moving. Worth noting is the fact that in the city of Schenectady, voters narrowly approved the amendment while Albany city voters rejected it.
Applicants are going to need a thumbs-up or thumbs-down before deciding to take the plunge, and not just from host governments, but others in the community. Municipalities that want a fighting chance need to get the facts, line up their support, hold their hearings and vote — soon.
We were initial lukewarm supporters of the Schenectady plan, but that was before the Albany plan surfaced. We still like Schenectady’s, but Albany’s — aligned with the regional Off-Track Betting Corp. — would benefit not just a single city, but an entire OTB region.
We aren’t the only ones who need more information before making a final choice.