Occupy Albany has rallied to a new cause: opposing construction of a casino anywhere in the Capital Region.
The loose-knit group that set up an encampment in Albany’s Academy Park and spoke out about social and economic injustice in 2011 is joining a coalition of groups opposing sites being marketed for casinos in the Albany area. Organizer Dan Plaat said the cause is a logical one to take up, considering the ideology of the Occupy movement.
“Occupy fights income and political inequality,” he said Tuesday. “The casino issue is emblematic of that from the top down.
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Plaat said Occupy came out against the state referendum allowing four casinos to open in three regions of the state. Now, he said they are trying to raise awareness of the impact a casino could have on urban communities like Albany, Schenectady and Troy.
“Casinos are inequality factories because they don’t produce anything useful for the community, but they take money in and simply transfer it right to the pockets of their wealthy owners,” he said.
Occupy is working with other grass-roots organizations to present opposition to several casino proposals in the Capital Region. They include Bethlehem Community Voices, a group opposing a casino project proposed off Thruway Exit 23 in Albany; No East Greenbush Casino, an organization rallying against a proposal along Thompson Hill between Interstate 90 exits 8 and 9; and No Casinos in the Capital District, which opposes all sites in the immediate Capital Region.
“Anytime you can join forces with other groups, it certainly adds new ideas and new energy,” said Stephen Hayford, who heads No Casinos in the Capital District.
Hayford, who works as the legislative director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, founded his group in November after the referendum passed. Since that time, he’s rallied against any casino proposal targeting areas around the tri-city region.
The Watervliet resident is specifically opposed to the Albany casino proposal also known as E23 — something he believes would suck the life out of the city’s downtown. But he’s also joined a cause being championed by East Greenbush residents hoping to reverse a Town Board resolution offering local support for a casino there.
The resolution hastily adopted by the board earlier this month was done less than a day before the operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway closed on a deal to purchase 72 acres of land on Thompson Hill. Three days after the deal closed, the operators announced a proposal for a 100,000-square-foot casino on the site.
“This was done without the town doing any real examination of any proposal,” he said. “It was just rushed through.”
Prospective casino sites have cropped up throughout the greater Capital Region, though some still lack the requisite resolution of support from the host community. Albany’s Common Council, for instance, hasn’t yet adopted a support resolution necessary for a casino operator to submit an application for E23, though council members have discussed the issue at several meetings.
Likewise, Schenectady’s City Council hasn’t considered the matter, though the Galesi Group continues to seek an operator to build a casino on the former American Locomotive Company property. Council President Peggy King did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Local opposition played a significant role in deterring a casino proposal racino operators were mulling for Saratoga Springs. Saratogians Against Vegas-style Expansion — also known as SAVE Saratoga — successfully lobbied city officials to pass a resolution many interpreted as opposing a gaming license being issued in Saratoga Springs.
The anti-casino activists say they also are not in favor of casinos that could potentially be sited in outlying rural areas — such as Howe Caverns in Cobleskill and Thruway Exit 27 in Amsterdam — but they are focusing their opposition on the proposals in and around Albany, Schenectady and Troy.
Prospective casino operators are expected to attend a mandatory meeting hosted by the state Gaming Commission in Albany today. In total, 21 entities paid the $1 million fee necessary to get a seat at the conference, which is intended to clarify any questions about the application or licensing process.
Within 10 days of the conference, the commission’s gaming facility location board is expected to release the minimum capital investment required of casino license applicants. Many prospective operators are waiting for this figure to be released before announcing anything more than vague details about their plans.