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What you need to know for 05/25/2017

Casino bidders all-in, but with concerns

Casino bidders all-in, but with concerns

A group of developers proposing casino projects across upstate New York said their biggest challenge

At a glance

Developers will present their casino plans to the Gaming Commission and the public. Presentations will be 45 minutes, with an additional 15 minutes for questions from the location board:

Date: Monday, Sept. 8

Location: Empire State Plaza, Meeting Room 6

Times:

• Capital View Casino & Resort, East Greenbush: 1:15 to 2:15 p.m.

• Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Rensselaer: 2:20 to 3:20 p.m.

• Howe Caverns Resort & Casino: 3:25 to 4:25 p.m.

• Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor, Schenectady: 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

A group of developers proposing casino projects across upstate New York said their biggest challenges in the bidding process are financing and market saturation.

In two years, New York will be the home of four commercial casinos, in the Capital Region, Hudson Valley and Southern Tier. Some developers looking to build those casinos who spoke during a panel discussion Wednesday at Albany Law School's Saratoga Institute on Racing & Gaming Law in Saratoga Springs — Nevele casino hopeful Michael Treanor, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs owner Jeff Gural, the Galesi Group’s David Buicko and Wilmorite Chairman Tom Wilmot — are going all in to make their projects a reality.

They’ve already spent millions of dollars to submit a casino application to the state Gaming Commission and are working to turn their proposed sites into gaming destinations that would attract visitors and meet revenue projections.

Gural, a real estate executive, is very concerned about saturation, which has hit Atlantic City ,where several casinos have announced plans to shut down. He said his businesses at Tioga and Vernon dropped by 8 percent over the past several years, and it never came back. He believes that’s a problem that will be seen statewide.

“Clearly saturation is out there,” he said. “I am very concerned about that. I think casinos have peaked, and the number of people going to casinos has peaked. People are exclusively older, especially during the week.”

Gural joked people who visit Tioga and Vernon are mostly overweight, and some even have oxygen tanks with them.

Treanor said it is difficult to lure young people to casinos when they have the option of online gaming.

But Gural is looking to expand Tioga Downs with 200 additional slot machines, 50 table games and a hotel. Gural said he is vying for a casino license so his racino can survive.

“We always wanted to get casino gambling because we couldn’t compete with Turning Stone,” he said. “I have the disadvantage of being in the middle of nowhere. I would be disappointed if I don’t win.”

Like Gural’s racino, Saratoga Casino and Raceway is expected to lose business after a full-scale casino opens in the Capital Region. To soften the blow, minority owner James Featherstonhaugh is pitching a casino about 40 minutes away, in East Greenbush.

But the proposed Capital View Casino & Resort is still projected to cut the Saratoga racino’s annual revenues by 48 percent, which would result in job cuts.

“We never thought this would be a free-for-all,” Gural said. “I thought the racinos would be given the option to exclusively expand. So that was a big blow, but you have to play by the rules.”

Another concern among developers is the possibility of a casino in Orange County. The county is closer to New York City, and therefore expected to bring in more visitors.

“If you want to keep me up at night, whisper ‘Orange County’ in my ear,” said Treanor, who was removed Tuesday as CEO of Nevele, which is proposing a casino in Ulster County. “You’ve got some really serious competition in Orange County. There are some very strong applicants there, and they cannot be dismissed.”

The Hudson Valley/Catskills region is expected to get two casino licenses in the fall. Several sites in nearby Sullivan County have also been proposed for a casino. Developers there have argued a casino in Orange County would take away from their business.

Featherstonhaugh is proposing a $670 million casino project in Newburgh, Orange County, with Rush Street Gaming of Chicago — the operator that partnered with the Galesi Group for a casino in Schenectady.

David Buicko, chief operating officer of the Galesi Group, said he does not feel threatened by other casinos proposed upstate because the Schenectady project — Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor — would be a regional casino that complements the area.

“We decided to develop residential, retail, hotel and condominiums and townhouses, and when the law passed last year, we took a hard look at other uses,” Buicko said. “We’re excited because we are the largest city that has applied. If we get the casino, it will attract more retail for the area.”

The Gaming Commission’s Facility Location Board will choose sites for casinos in the fall. Developers will present their projects to the board and the public next month in Albany.

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