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What you need to know for 08/17/2017

Schenectady City Council set to bet on casino


Schenectady City Council set to bet on casino

Without debate, discussion or even a public hearing, the majority of the Schenectady City Council ha
Schenectady City Council set to bet on casino
Members of the public attend a meeting of the Schenectady City Council at City Hall Monday evening. The council discussed the casino proposal.
Photographer: Stacey Lauren-Kennedy

Capital Region casinos

For complete coverage of the local live-gaming casino debate, see the Capital Region casinos special report.

Without debate, discussion or even a public hearing, the majority of the Schenectady City Council has decided to support the casino proposed to be built in the city.

With four of the seven members voicing favor Monday night, council President Margaret King moved quickly to put a vote of support on the agenda for next Monday’s meeting.

Then the council hammered out a deal that might add a fifth member to the “yes” column. That deal got more discussion than the casino itself.

But Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo did offer one opportunity for those who wanted to tell the council how they feel about the casino.

There won’t be a formal public hearing before the council, but she asked residents to speak during privilege of the floor next Monday. That discussion period is held shortly after 7 p.m., just before the council votes.

Last week, it was clear that three council members would vote for the casino: Perazzo, King and Ed Kosiur.

They have been joined by Councilman John Mootooveren, who said last week that he had serious reservations about the casino. Now, he said, he has no worries about it. He fully supports it.

“Of course. Why not?” he said Monday.

Councilman Carl Erikson might also soon be won over. The council agreed to consider legislation that would reserve the gambling revenue from the state for tax reduction.

Mootooveren quickly supported it.

“I like the idea,” he said, adding that Erikson should assume the casino and its revenue will come to Schenectady.

“Not if we receive it — when we receive it,” he said.

But he added that some money should be spent on roads, police and firefighters.

“We are going to see an increase in services,” he said.

Erikson said the council could use the casino’s tax payments for those needs.

Perazzo said she also liked the idea — but hesitated to commit future councils.

“This happens three or four years from now,” she said, referring to the time that might be needed to build the casino. “Lowering taxes is awesome, but we don’t know what four years down the road is going to look like.”

Erikson said the legislation would officially lower the tax rate, so that future councils could not change it without a vote to override the state tax cap. But in an emergency, he noted, the council just needs a supermajority vote to override.

“It’s very simple, if we truly had the situation where we needed the money,” he said.

He added that the decision could significantly decrease opposition to the casino.

“If anyone’s on the fence, I think it would help them to know at least there’s going to be a significant tax reduction,” he said.

The council will discuss the matter again Monday at 6:30 p.m., just before the voting session.

Still opposed to the entire casino proposal is Councilman Vince Riggi. Still undecided is Councilwoman Marion Porterfield. She said Monday that she wants to research data from the state comptroller’s report on revenue for urban casinos, and said she needed more time to finish that research.

At Monday’s meeting, top leaders of Rush Street Gaming gave the council a personal presentation on their company and why it could be trusted to run a casino in Schenectady. They said they will invest $300 million in the project and employ about 1,200.

The average hourly worker would make $50,000 a year, plus health and dental insurance and 401(k) contributions from the company. They stressed that their average wage calculation did not include managers or supervisors. The median hourly worker’s wage at their existing casinos is $42,000, they added.

They also said they expected to bring in $200 million to $250 million in revenue from gambling, and promised to be “a good corporate citizen” by donating to local charities and giving customers rewards cards that could be used at local businesses.

The gambling revenue would lead to revenue for the city and county, an estimated $5.7 million each from the state each year. The county and school district would still receive some funds from the state if the casino was not built in Schenectady but elsewhere in the Capital Region, however the city would receive funds only if a casino was built within city limits, according to the state.

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