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Rensselaer mayor: Reopen casino siting process

Rensselaer mayor: Reopen casino siting process

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the casino bidding process to be reopened in the Southern Tier, R
Rensselaer mayor: Reopen casino siting process
The land for a proposed casino at de Laet's Landing in Rensselaer is seen on June 26.

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the casino bidding process to be reopened in the Southern Tier, Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer is asking Cuomo to push the state Gaming Commission to reconsider a casino in Schenectady.

Dwyer said it is “inexplicable” that the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady was recommended by the Gaming Facility Location Board for a casino license over the proposed Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Rensselaer.

“The law specifies a casino resort shall be designated in the Capital District and the Hard Rock casino project on the Hudson River is by far the superior project and best serves the interests of Capital District residents,” Dwyer said in a letter to Cuomo dated Dec. 29.

Cuomo's office confirmed on Tuesday that the governor received Dwyer's letter. Spokesman Rich Azzopardi said there are specific circumstances regarding the Southern Tier, which is why the governor is seeking to reopen the bidding process in that region. Cuomo has not yet received a response to his letter from the Gaming Commission or siting board, Azzopardi said.

Earlier this month the five-member siting board, hand-picked by the Gaming Commission, chose Rivers Casino for a license over three other proposals in the Capital Region at Howe Caverns in Cobleskill, Thompson Hill in East Greenbush and de Laet’s Landing in Rensselaer.

The board also recommended Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, Sullivan County and Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre, Seneca County for casino licenses. The board decided not to choose any proposals in Orange County, located in close proximity to New York City, for an optional fourth license.

In a letter to siting board chairman Kevin Law and Gaming Commission Chairman Mark Gearan dated Dec. 26, Cuomo asked for a new Request for Application to seek a qualified applicant to submit a new bid for the fourth license in “the true Southern Tier,” since a license was recommended for a project north of the region in Seneca County instead.

Now Dwyer is insisting the bidding process be revisited for the Capital Region also with a new Request for Application process performed by new board appointees who reside in upstate New York. The five siting board members all live outside of the Capital Region, Catskills/Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes/Southern Tier.

“The previous Facilities Location Board members all resided in either Long Island or New York City,” Dwyer said in the letter. “It is of little wonder that the choice for the Southern Tier casino project actually is located in the Finger Lakes region. Additionally, it is equally inexplicable how the Capital District casino choice could have been the Rivers [project] located on the western edge of Schenectady rather than the Hard Rock Casino on the shores of the Hudson River in the City of Rensselaer and supported by the cities of Albany and Troy.”

In the letter to Cuomo, Dwyer said he has received phone calls from city residents and even people outside of the city who share his belief that “there is no way the Rivers Casino project could have outscored the Hard Rock proposal according to the requirements of the RFA.”

According to the RFA, decisions to award licenses were based 70 percent on economic impact, 20 percent on local support and 10 percent on workforce development.

Dwyer said the Hard Rock project would have generated more revenue than Rivers Casino. According to the casino applications, Hard Rock was projected to generate $260 million in annual revenue compared to $223 million by the Rivers Casino.

Also, Dwyer said the Hard Rock proposal received the most support by local governments with 11 counties that passed resolutions in favor of the project. Dwyer received non-exclusive support from the city of Albany following an $11 million revenue-sharing deal.

“The decision to award a casino license to Rush Street Gaming over the Hard Rock casino does not make any sense when you consider the requirements of the RFA,” Dwyer said in the letter.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said he believes Rivers Casino, spearheaded by Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group and casino operator Rush Street Gaming of Chicago, was the best proposal in the Capital Region.

“The decision has been made and we appreciate the disappointment that may be in other communities, but we look forward to moving ahead,” McCarthy said on Monday. “I’ve always felt that Rush Gaming’s proposal was the strongest one submitted among those in the Capital Region.”

The $330 million Rivers Casino is on top of a $150 million development previously planned by Galesi to transform a 60-acre brownfield between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River into a housing community.

The day after the siting board chose Rivers Casino for a license, Cuomo visited Proctors in Schenectady to celebrate the city’s victory. He called the project a “home run” and said it “deserved to win.”

According to siting board chairman Kevin Law, the Schenectady project was chosen, in part, over others proposed in the region because requirements were already met under the State Environmental Quality Review Act and it is part of an overall $480 million development of a former industrial site.

The $280 million Hard Rock casino was pitched at de Laet’s Landing, a 24-acre site next to the Hudson River across from downtown Albany. The project included plans for a Hard Rock Cafe, 100-room hotel and other amenities like a steakhouse and a retail outlet.

The Hard Rock project included several partners — Hard Rock International, Och-Ziff Real Estate, Global Gaming Solutions of the Chickasaw Nation, Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp. and Rochester developer Flaum Management.

Throughout the casino siting process, Dwyer touted the Hard Rock brand as a sure bet that the facility would attract visitors and be successful.

“The board finds the Hard Rock proposal to be compelling,” the siting board said in a statement regarding the casino selections. “However, the board determined, through an overall comparison of the two and despite Hard Rock’s revenue projections, Rivers is a more comprehensive and well-measured proposal.”

Dwyer is calling for the Gaming Commission to immediately release the “scorecard” used to determine the casino siting recommendations. According to Gaming Commission spokesman Lee Park, documents detailing the board’s decisions are expected to be released by Jan. 16.

Cuomo’s office could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

Cuomo’s letter to the Gaming Commission and siting board came after Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural and officials in the Southern Tier including Republican Sen. Tom Libous, of Binghamton, complained about the decision.

The racino located in Nichols, Tioga County was one of two Southern Tier applicants. The other, Traditions in Broome County, has since joined with Gural to lobby for a license at Tioga Downs. Seneca County in the Finger Lakes was included as part of the Southern Tier, dubbed Region Five, under the Upstate NY Gaming and Economic Development Act.

“As a result of this construct and the strength of the bids, the applicant determined by the [Gaming Facility Location Board] most deserving for Region Five proposed a casino in an area well north of the actual Southern Tier,” Cuomo said in the letter.

Park said on Monday that the Gaming Commission and siting board have received Cuomo’s letter and are reviewing it. If bidding for the fourth license is reopened, other applicants could emerge to compete against Tioga Downs.

Cuomo’s push for a fourth license in the Southern Tier comes after he repeatedly insisted that the decisions to site up to four commercial casinos in upstate New York was up to the siting board.

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