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A new casino in Schenectady — when included as part of a new riverfront development, integrated with a growing downtown business district, and combined with a vigorous regional effort to build upon and promote the city's assets — has great potential to benefit not only Schenectady, but the surrounding communities, the county and the region.
That’s why the state Gaming Commission should grant the Capital District’s casino license to the new Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady.
The project teams a successful, Schenectady-based real estate developer, Galesi Group, with a successful, legitimate casino operator, Rush Street Gaming.
The project they have proposed is financially sound, makes good use of a long-abandoned industrial site, gives residents and boaters access to a previously inaccessible stretch of Mohawk River waterfront property, complements the downtown business district, and creates jobs and tax revenue from which the city will benefit for many years to come.
While the casino will attract people who will want to do nothing here but gamble, there will be a substantial element who will want to make the most out of their visit.
That's where cross-promotion of the casino and Schenectady businesses will be vital to the success of this project.
The casino is being designed so as not to compete with Proctors or existing city restaurants, bars and retail shops.
Operators say they’ll encourage gamblers to go offsite into the business district for dinner and shows, perhaps enticing them with vouchers, as they’ve done at their other facilities.
The site is only a short walk from Jay and Union streets and the rest of downtown. And the developer plans to establish trolley service to ferry casino visitors and hotel guests back and forth if there’s a demand.
Then there are the unmistakable financial benefits to the region.
Casino operators say that the $300 million project will create 1,200 good-paying jobs, bring 2.8 million visitors to the area, and generate more than $11 million in revenue for the city and county and another $2 million for the financially strapped city school district.
In some places where casinos have been sited, the host communities have been promised similar benefits, only to find that they don't always meet the lofty projections.
But the rosiest economic projections for the casino don't have to come to full fruition for the city to welcome the casino and for it to be considered a success.
Regardless of whether it brings in $13 million a year or half that amount, that's still more money than the 60-acre abandoned locomotive company property is generating now as a restored brownfield site and storage area for large piles of bricks.
Even if the casino supplies, say, only 1,000 of the promised 1,200 well-paying jobs, that's 1,000 more local residents off the unemployment rolls, 1,000 more residents contributing property tax and sales tax and improving their neighborhoods.
And that doesn't include the more than 1,000 jobs that will be created by the construction of the casino and the surrounding waterfront project, which includes a hotel, condos, a marina, restaurants and shops.
And even if half the number of projected visitors come into town, and if only a fraction of those people bother to see what else is going on in the community, that's still thousands more potential customers each year for Proctors and the city's many restaurants, bars, retail shops and historic sites.
The business community sees that potential, which is why the Schenectady County chamber of commerce and other local businesses came out in favor of the project last week.
A new casino in Schenectady will not be the end-all solution to the city's economic problems.
It won't cure the city's high taxes or automatically get more people into downtown stores by itself. It won't alone end unemployment, poverty or crime in the city.
We have some concerns about exactly how much the casino company will contribute to the community and how much it plans to invest in mitigating the negative, long-term impacts of its project. Developers have been vague on dollar amounts, especially longterm. The city needs to get more of the details in writing.
We want to make sure the city has a definitive plan for all the projected tax revenue and that it’s used for community improvement and tax relief, not squandered.
Opponents of the casino also have made legitimate points about the potential for additional demands on local services, such as police and fire protection and road maintenance. They have a reason to be concerned about the impact on local neighborhoods of casino-related crime and traffic. And they’re right to be worried about creating problem gamblers.
But these are concerns that can be mitigated with proper attention early on, and by dedicating (in writing) some of that new tax money and revenue from the improved business environment to combat the problems.
Despite the potential pitfalls, the financial plan appears solid. The involvement of a local developer with a strong vested interest in the success of Schenectady is comforting. And any industry with a track record of bringing in people and generating jobs and sales tax dollars has to be seen as a benefit for a struggling upstate city.
If the casino is going to be built somewhere in the region and if someone is going to receive those benefits, why shouldn’t it be Schenectady?
What was once a dying city is now a city that's competing, that's rejuvenating itself, that's coming back. A casino, when viewed as a complementary component of that rejuvenation, can be a contributor to that comeback.
We're betting on it being a welcome addition to Schenectady.