Cobleskill advanced a small piece of local legislation Friday that could have a big impact on the future of casino gambling in the Schoharie County.
Members of the Town Board unanimously adopted a local resolution of support for siting a casino near Howe Caverns. The support represents a critical step in the process to apply for one of the state Gaming Commission’s casino licenses and places Howe Caves Development Corp. — a limited liability company headed by caverns owner Emil Galasso — among four prospective sites in the Capital Region with a local support resolution.
“We feel that Howe Caverns is an extremely important area for tourism,” Town Supervisor Leo McAllister said Monday. “I think everyone on the board thought it was important to support something that is going to bring more tourism to the area.”
McAllister said the Town Board intends to have a public hearing on the casino issue at its May 12 meeting to further gauge attitudes toward bringing a facility into the town. He said the board could revisit its resolution of support if there is a groundswell of opposition to a casino, but there has been a consensus of support when the casino issue was raised at other public hearings on the matter, including a forum at Cobleskill-Richmondville High School earlier this month.
“There was support, he said, “no question about it.”
Cobleskill joins the city of Rensselaer, town of East Greenbush, city of Amsterdam, and town of Florida among the municipalities that have issued adequate support resolutions for prospective casino proposals. The resolution is a critical hurdle for prospective casino operators to clear, since the commission’s gaming facility location board has stressed it will automatically disqualify any application lacking a formal statement of support from the prospective host community.
The failure to secure a support resolution has largely been blamed for the demise of plans for a casino in Saratoga Springs, the city once considered a front-runner for the Capital Region’s license. In early March, city officials passed a lengthy resolution indicating they would not support a casino under the conditions laid out by the gaming legislation approved by voters last year.
The resolution at least partially contributed to the owners of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway abandoning their bid to bring live table games to the sprawling video lottery terminal facility and harness track. Last week, they announced their intentions to submit a casino proposal in East Greenbush, a town that had adopted a support resolution just days earlier.
Both Amsterdam and Florida passed local support resolutions earlier this year. The resolutions mean Clairvest, a Toronto-based private equity management firm and casino operator, can proceed with its application for land straddling the town-city border near Exit 27 of the Thruway.
Rensselaer was the first potential host municipality in the region to pass a support resolution. The city adopted the measure in January after several prospective casino operators scouted out a waterfront development called de Laet’s Landing.
No specific operator has emerged for the 24-acre project on the Hudson River. But several companies paying the initial $1 million application fee that was due last week still haven’t identified the sites they are targeting for a casino.
Howe Caves Development is unique in that the company paid the application fee, but has no intention of operating a casino. Chris Tague, a spokesman for Howe Caverns, said the 330-acre lot bordering the caverns recently attracted interest from another entity that submitted the fee before last week’s deadline.
“We’re currently speaking to four casino developer-operators, but neither us nor them have come to a determination,” he said. “All of the discussions have been positive.”
The location board is expected to release the minimum capital investment needed for a casino within 10 days of a conference to be held Wednesday in Albany for applicants. Once this figure is released, the 21 companies that paid the fee will have five days to seek a refund.
It’s expected some companies will wait until the minimum capital investment figure is released before identifying a specific site. Or in the case of Howe Caves, a specific operator.
“If this right here happened in Schoharie County, it would be big,” Tague said. “We’re still committed and we’re still very confident that at the end of the day our site is going to be picked, mainly because it’s the best one out of any of them.”