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After no more than 15 minutes of public comment and a few brief comments from the floor, the Schenectady County Legislature voted unanimously Tuesday to support a proposed $300 million casino that promises to bring 1,200 jobs and sizable gaming revenue to the city and county of Schenectady.
“I think that this is a yes vote, and I think it’s an easy vote to take,” Legislator Gary Hughes said before the vote.
The Legislature then voted unanimously to put the county’s portion of gambling revenue from the casino — projected at $5.7 million annually — toward property tax relief.
The projected revenue would mean a roughly 8 percent reduction in county real estate taxes, said Legislator Jeffrey McDonald, who sponsored the legislation.
Chuck Steiner, president of the Chamber of Schenectady County, was all for the tax relief.
“[This project] will help to diminish the escalation of the largest tax Schenectady County businesses pay, property taxes, by providing the significant increase in property tax revenue from the casino,” said Steiner, whose organization has strongly endorsed the casino. “Add to that the increased revenue from the sales tax and the increased hotel occupancy tax due to the 275 new hotel rooms.”
Steiner also praised the “powerhouse combination” of Rotterdam-based developer Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago that would partner on the casino project. The casino would be built by Galesi Group on the old Alco site between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River.
“They are a perfect team to provide 1,000 jobs, tax revenue and benefits for our community, including workforce development at Schenectady County Community College and in the collaboration with the arts and entertainment industry,” he said.
Mark Mincher, business representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers District 106, expressed excitement about the jobs the project would bring for local construction workers.
“We don’t get a lot of satisfaction from tearing down buildings, but we take a lot of pride in building structures like this,” he added.
Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor would be 50,000 square feet and feature 66 table games and between 1,000 and 1,150 slot machines.
Out of the handful of residents who spoke about the casino, only one — Jason Planck of Schenectady — spoke against it.
“Both the city and the county have not even done a cost-benefit analysis, taking a look at exactly what is the cost going to be for the taxpayers themselves,” he said. “What is the actual impact on Erie Boulevard, of the people coming in and out?”
He questioned just how many permanent jobs the casino would bring, and said that at Las Vegas hotel-casinos, one hotel room is equivalent to one job.
“I don’t now where the 1,000 is coming from,” he said. “We need to see where the numbers are at.”
There are four other places vying for a casino license in the Capital Region — Rensselaer, East Greenbush, Cobleskill and Amsterdam — and local support will factor into the state Siting Board’s decision on where to locate one. The applications are due by the end of the month.
On Monday, the Schenectady City Council voted 5-2 to support the casino after three hours of public comment from residents for and against the casino, and voted to use its share of the gambling revenue — also projected at $5.7 million — for property tax relief.
Hughes said the county should seize the opportunity to have the casino placed locally.
“We will have a casino somewhere, but we have in our hands, at this point, the opportunity to voice strong support for having that development in the city of Schenectady and within Schenectady County,” he said. “Through that we stand to achieve the greatest share of revenue sharing, whatever that number ends up being.”
Hughes admitted that he is “no great fan of gambling.”
“I honestly am not, and I sympathize with the folks who just have a philosophical problem with this, but here in New York state, that train left the station almost 30 years ago.”