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The East Greenbush Town Board unanimously passed a resolution of support for a casino Thursday afternoon, despite a majority of local residents voicing strong opposition for the proposed project.
Hundreds of area residents attended the Town Hall meeting. With only about 30 seats set up, more than 100 people were forced to stand — crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens pushing out the door.
“You have hundreds of people standing in the hallway right now,” Jim Connell said to the Town Board halfway through the meeting. “People can’t hear a thing or see a thing, and they have no idea what is going on. I just wanted you to know that.”
People were allowed to comment for about one hour — then the board voted 5-0 on the casino resolution. Due to the meeting’s large turnout, each person was given two minutes to talk.
The crowd laughed at some of the people who voiced support for a casino, and cheered loudly for those who were against the proposal.
Ed Gilbert, deputy supervisor for the town, said he fully supports a casino, which is expected to bring additional revenue and jobs to the area.
His comments were followed by laughter from some people in the crowd.
“Boy, some classy bunch you guys are,” he said in response to the chuckling. After that remark, one person stood up and said she was offended by his comment.
Those against a casino in East Greenbush voiced concerns of increased traffic and crime. They also questioned the revenue and jobs it would generate.
“I challenge the Town Board … to seek other viable options of revenue generation for East Greenbush,” Kathleen McDonald said.
Jerry Eisenberg said she is concerned for the future of the town if a casino were to be built on Thompson Hill.
“I urge you all to take an independent review of the promised benefits and the potential adverse impacts on the community,” she said to the board. “I’m especially concerned for people living in the immediate vicinity of the project.”
Lee Cookton, a town resident, said he disagrees with the notion of a casino for economic development. He slammed the Town Board for supporting a casino when “most people are against it.”
“I disagree with a casino in East Greenbush. I don’t think you are listening to us,” he said. “It’s very clear that an awful lot of people in this town are against this, and they don’t agree with you.”
Only a handful of people said they support a casino in the town during the meeting.
“I am not a big gambler, I go to Foxwoods and spend little money, but I think this will be good for East Greenbush,” said Bill Daniels. “I don’t think it will make us worse off than we are now.”
Operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs and Churchill Downs of Kentucky are pushing for a $300 million casino on Thompson Hill off Exits 8 and 9 of Interstate 90.
The proposal includes a 100,000-square-foot gaming facility along with a 300-room hotel, 20,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants and two parking garages. It is expected to create a total of 1,700 construction jobs and permanent jobs.
According to the operators, the project would generate $24.1 million annually for the Capital Region, plus $5.7 million each for the town of East Greenbush and Rensselaer County.
Council member Sue Mangold said she voted in favor of a casino because of the revenue it would bring in.
“We do not have the money. This money will allow us to provide a lot of good things for the town,” Mangold said. “Our residents cannot afford the taxes … we are talking about foreclosures. It’s just tough.”
Councilperson Deborah DiMartino agreed with Mangold and said the casino would help to attract businesses and create jobs.
“This will bring in some much-needed business to the area,” she said. “I think the positives outweigh the negatives. I am voting yes on this, and it is ultimately up to the state on where a casino will be placed.”
The crowd booed and yelled “No!” after members of the council voted in favor of the resolution for a casino. There were also people clapping in favor after the board explained the votes.
The Town Board previously voted on a resolution of support for a casino in April, but it was not accepted by the state Gaming Commission since it was done before the operators announced their plans.
“I really don’t know what you were thinking passing that resolution,” said Mike Scott during the meeting. “You don’t care about the people of the town. You’re supposed to be objective and supposed to be supervising the town.”
A resolution of support from the host municipality for a casino is required to be considered for a casino license. Applications are due by June 30 and locations will be chosen in the fall.
A group called No East Greenbush Casino is lobbying against the proposed project and has also hired an attorney, and is threatening to sue.
After the meeting, town Supervisor Keith Langley said the casino, if it got the go-ahead from the state, would boost economic development, eliminate deficits and reduce property taxes.
“It’s important to remember that economic development is key to the success and to the future of East Greenbush,” Langley said. “It could provide thousands of jobs and continued revenues. I totally support the casino.”
Four other sites in the Capital Region are being pitched for a casino, including 520 acres of farmland in Amsterdam, Howe Caverns in Cobleskill, the former Alco site in Schenectady and de Laet’s Landing in the city of Rensselaer.
Despite another casino being proposed for the city of Rensselaer, the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce is backing the East Greenbush project. Also, several business leaders in the area have announced their support, including Stewart’s Shops’ chairman Gary Dake.
On Thursday, the Hudson Valley Community College Faculty Association also announced its endorsement of a casino in East Greenbush. The group said the casino revenue could help combat potential faculty and program cuts at the college.
Langley said he “wishes the developers luck in their endeavor” of pitching East Greenbush as a gaming destination to the state.
“This is the beginning of the process,” he said. “There will be additional resolutions that would be required with regards to the usage of that property. This is just really the beginning steps of a long journey.”