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After a grueling three-hour session of public comment, the Schenectady City Council took a deep breath and voted to support a casino.
The vote was 5-2, with members Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi voting against.
But the others said they couldn’t turn their back on millions in new revenue and more than 1,200 new jobs.
“There will be a casino close to our homes,” said Councilman Carl Erikson, who said the benefits should go to Schenectady since the city will have to face the dangers of gambling addiction.
If the city gets even half as much revenue as the projected $5.7 million, he said, it would still be “quite a bit.”
But Porterfield said the city shouldn’t bet on gambling. She cited the state comptroller’s “cautious” report, which said the state gambling market is nearly saturated.
She added that it wouldn’t help the rest of the city.
“When people go to a casino, that’s their destination,” she said. “I believe other businesses would suffer.”
Before the council voted, about 80 people signed up to speak during privilege of the floor, many waving “YES” or “NO” signs. At the start of the meeting, the two sides began rival chants, getting louder and louder as they tried to drown each other out. Council President Margaret King had to gavel them down and threaten to have them all expelled to put a stop to it.
Jobs were what brought out many of those in favor.
Two students from SCCC said it could fulfill their dream — to find a career without moving away from family and friends.
“Let me pursue my dreams and stay local with my friends,” said student Harsha Wijesuriya.
Older workers said the casino wouldn’t just offer a job.
“These are living wages,” said architect Frank Gilmore.
Rush Street Gaming offers $20 an hour to the average hourly worker at its casinos, with more for supervisors and management.
There will be more than 1,200 jobs, Gilmore added.
“And they really fit a broad spectrum of Schenectady people,” he said.
Appeal to jobless
Joe Rodriguez, a resident of one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, begged the city to remember the unemployed.
“Here’s an opportunity,” he said. “Think about the neighborhoods! Hamilton Hill, Vale, Mont Pleasant. I hope the state chooses Schenectady.”
People against a proposed casino cited a potential for increased crime, gambling addiction and possibly a surge in prostitution.
Marion Goodrich, a city resident, said she is concerned that her fellow residents will gamble their savings away at the nearby casino.
“The poverty that this proposed casino is going to create will be phenomenal,” she said. “This will also bring more burglary, crime and prostitution.”
David Giacalone, a Stockade resident, has distributed petitions against the casino. In about a week he gained about 250 signatures, with roughly 80 coming from those in the Stockade. That neighborhood is near the proposed casino site.
“It’s immoral to put a casino here,” Giacalone said. “It’s not very ethical to put a casino in the area for people to gamble and do so more often when it’s right down the block. We’re not desperate enough to take this gamble.”
Marsha Pompilio and Kathi Rapisarda, both city residents, held signs that read “No casinos” during the council meeting. Pompilio said she is skeptical of the promises being made by Rush Street Gaming.
“I don’t think this will help decrease our property taxes,” Pompilio said. “We don’t have the money to spend on a casino, we cannot afford this.”
Rotterdam-based developer Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago are pitching a $300 million full-scale casino at the former American Locomotive Co. site between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River.
The gaming facility is also projected to generate $5.7 million for the county and the city. The City Council decided that its share of the revenue would be entirely used to reduce property taxes. The casino would also pay property taxes, which the council projects to use on any possible need for additional police, infrastructure and other services.
Applications for a casino license are due by the end of the month. East Greenbush, Rensselaer, Amsterdam and Cobleskill are all vying for a license in the Capital Region. A casino location will be chosen by the state in the fall.