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Casino panel aims for October decision

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Casino panel aims for October decision

Place your bets on upstate casino locations soon because the Gaming Facility Location Board is prepa
Casino panel aims for October decision
People stand on the hill in front of Howe Caverns in Cobleskill on a Sunday afternoon to be in a commercial for the proposed Howe Caverns Resort and Casino.

Place your bets on upstate casino locations soon because the Gaming Facility Location Board is preparing to announce its recommendations by the end of the month.

The five-member board is reviewing 16 casino applications for projects proposed in the Capital Region, Hudson Valley and Southern Tier. After the board makes recommendations during a public meeting at the end of October — before the general elections on Nov. 4 — the Gaming Commission will then award casino licenses after the chosen sites receive approvals needed to start construction.

“The Gaming Facility Location Board has said for over a month now that they are optimistic they can complete their work by late October,” said Lee Park, spokesman for the Gaming Commission, speaking on behalf of the board. “They are hoping to get it done in October. But if the work requires them to go into November they will do so.”

The board, appointed by the Gaming Commission, is not on a deadline, Park stressed. Although the goal is to make recommendations in about two weeks, that could be pushed until after the elections in November. But the board is “hoping to get it done in October,” Park added.

The board’s recommendations will almost certainly be the projects that receive a license from the Gaming Commission. Park said licenses would be awarded after background checks are completed and environmental reviews for the sites are approved. The recommendations could change only if something drastic is uncovered about a casino operator, like if a company announces bankruptcy or if its other casinos suddenly shut down.

“Awarding licenses are a similar but different process from the recommendations,” Park said. “The decision by the Gaming Facility Location Board is what everyone is waiting for, not the Gaming Commission.”

Four sites have been pitched by developers for casinos in the Capital Region — Howe Caverns in Cobleskill, Thompson Hill in East Greenbush, de Laet’s Landing in Rensselaer and the former Alco site in Schenectady. Developers must meet requirements under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) before they are handed a license.

The Galesi Group of Rotterdam, partnering with Rush Street Gaming, is plowing through the process. Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, said SEQRA for the site would be completed by Oct. 22.

SEQRA was first done for the 60-acre brownfield in 2010. A supplemental review is ongoing to look at the impact of the project with a casino. Plans for the site also include housing, retail and office space, a $150 million development previously planned by Galesi.

“We will complete the supplemental environmental impact statement and finish the amended SEQRA process on Oct. 22,” Gillen said. “The process will be complete and the site will be shovel-ready. We’re doing SEQRA the right way.”

Galesi is also waiting on a nod of approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to dig deeper into the river, widen it and create an adjacent marina with up to 50 boat docks and public access to the waterfront. The Army Corps’ review of potential problems, including flooding, is separate from the casino project and will not hinge on Rush Street receiving a license, Park said.

It is unclear when the Army will make a decision. The Daily Gazette could not reach officials for comment after repeated attempts. The Corps of Engineers also has not responded to The Daily Gazette’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the public comments submitted regarding the proposed project.

Howe Caverns has completed SEQRA on its 330-acre site for a proposed casino project that also includes plans by owner Emil Galasso for a water park (indoor and outdoor) and hotel (separate from second casino hotel). But small amendments still have to be made for traffic mitigation.

Officials involved with the project, a joint venture by Michigan casino developer Michael Malik and Full House Resorts of Las Vegas, said if awarded a casino license, the developers could start building right away.

“The 330 acres at Howe Caverns is SEQRA approved with water and sewer already on site,” said Ryan Moses, managing director of Park Strategies, the firm contracted by Malik for the project. “We can literally put a shovel in the ground tomorrow. We would be the quickest to open.”

In Rensselaer, de Laet’s Landing received SEQRA approval for a larger project previously planned on the site. That has to be updated to include the casino plans introduced by Hard Rock in partnership with Global Gaming Solutions and Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp. It is unclear when SEQRA would be completed.

Saratoga Harness Racing and Churchill Downs, proposing a casino on Thompson Hill in East Greenbush, have barely scratched the surface on their SEQRA. In August, the Planned Development District application was forwarded to the town planning and zoning boards to start the SEQRA process and rezone the site from residential buffer.

The project is facing opposition, mostly coming from Save East Greenbush, a group of local residents against the casino project. The group’s attorney, Jeff Meyer, has also filed a lawsuit against the developers, the Town Board and the Gaming Commission.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly said that his office is not involved in the casino siting process.

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