Plans for a casino at Howe Caverns are “moving full steam ahead” — life-size dinosaurs and all.
Emil Galasso, owner of the town of Cobleskill landmark, said he has a prospective operator and a casino application will be submitted by the June 30 deadline with the state Gaming Commission.
“Everything is being put together and the application will be submitted on June 30,” he said. “The operator just wants to wait until after the application is submitted to provide details of the project.”
“Respecting their wishes,” Galasso would not identify the operator, nor would he provide the price tag of the project or size of the buildings.
The proposed casino and hotel would be built on a 330-acre section of the Howe Caverns property. It would be different from other casino proposals in the Capital Region — in Amsterdam, East Greenbush, Rensselaer and Schenectady — because it would be “a family destination site,” Galasso said.
The project will feature a more than 50,000-square-foot indoor water park and a second hotel with about 200 rooms. An enclosed walkway would be built from the water park to the casino.
Galasso will also move forward with plans he first unveiled four years ago that were sketched by Mark Fisher, a stage designer and architect for the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.
A dinosaur canyon would be blasted into the rock to create a 120-foot deep pit swarming with life-size animatronic dinosaurs, some on the ground and others flying in the air.
“In 2009 we had a presentation with a dinosaur walk carved into the rock at Howe Caverns in front of a hotel,” Galasso said. “When the [casino] operator was looking at all of the attractions, they wanted to see the video. They see it as such an enhancement, and now they want it as part of the whole destination of Howe Caverns.”
The canyon would house several dinosaur species, including triceratops, pteranodon, stegosaurus, parasaurolophus, spinosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex. It also would have a “fossil walk” where visitors can walk and pick out fossils from the dinosaur canyon pits. It would also have a T-Rex Theater and an entertainment building with rides and retail.
Galasso said construction of a casino could start a week after the license is awarded. If the casino bid fails, he still plans to move forward with the water park, hotel and dinosaur canyon.
“The site is shovel-ready,” he said. “Howe Caverns has met requirements under [the state Environmental Quality Review Act]. We could start construction right away.”
The Cobleskill Town Board approved a resolution of support for a casino at Howe Caverns, which is required for the site to be considered for a license.
The Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce also passed a resolution in favor of the casino project. Executive Director Georgia Van Dyke said the proposal would support economic growth in the county.
“This will increase employment and generate revenue for the area,” she said. “We have been very pleased with Howe Caverns, which has worked collaboratively with all of the businesses in the area. This is an ideal situation. We want to see a casino here.”
In 2013 Schoharie County had 31,844 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county has 17,138 housing units with a median household income of $51,896. Nearly 11 percent of county residents live below poverty level.
Howe Caverns is already a popular tourist attraction, with more than 2,000 visitors a day and 160,000 per year. It is the largest cave open to the public in the Northeast and the second most-visited natural attraction in the state behind Niagara Falls.
It is believed that Lester Howe, who settled in the valley east of Cobleskill, found the cave by accident in 1842.
Howe Caverns also has an adventure park, called Howe High Adventure, which offers an air jumper, rock wall, ropes course, zip line and 12-foot inflatable balls, called H2OGO Balls, which roll people down a hill at up to 35 miles per hour.
Galasso said he is excited to expand Howe Caverns to possibly include a casino and other amenities. The casino operator will be revealed during a news conference on the site after the application is submitted.
“A lot of operators we spoke with at first thought that we were too far out,” Galasso said. “But this group loves the idea of a rural casino. We threw our hat in the ring because we have all of these attractions already. We have so much more to offer compared to the other sites, and I hope the state recognizes that.”