T he Washington County Board of Supervisors wants more information before it rolls the dice on one of two casino projects proposed for the Capital Region.
The board heard presentations last week from officials involved with two proposed casino projects: A $300 million casino in East Greenbush presented by Saratoga Casino and Raceway and a similar project from Capital District Off-Track Betting that would result in a casino being constructed off Exit 23 of the Thruway in Albany.
The Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act would allow four casinos to be built across three region of upstate New York: the Capital District, the eastern Southern Tier, and the Catskills.
Under the law, tax revenue from the projects would be split among local municipalities and counties. Ten percent of tax revenue would be split between the community and county where the casino is located and another 10 percent would be split among neighboring counties.
In the case of both projects proposed in the Capital District, Washington County is among the eight neighboring counties (Albany, Schoharie, Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties are the others) that would share in the tax revenue.
Based on estimates released by the New York State Gaming Commission, Washington County can expect to receive $689,000 in unrestricted local government aid and $1.13 million in local school aid.
“You will share in the revenue produced by the four upstate casinos. I think it’s to your advantage to pick the casino that is going to generate the most revenue,” George Carlson, vice president of external affairs for Saratoga Casino and Raceway, said.
“This is going to have a big impact on the region.”
Developers were asked to put up a $1 million application fee for the right to apply to build a casino. A state appointed Resort Gaming Facility Location Board will select which projects are approved. According the Gaming commission, a total of 22 organizations had submitted applications, with the greatest competition in the Catskills. Final proposals must be filed by June 30.
The state will consider three factors when it sits down to select final locations this summer: 70 percent is based on financial aspects of the project, 20 percent is based on local approval and 10 percent on “green initiatives.
Carlson pointed to his company’s experience and a recent partnership with Churchill Downs, which would operate the facility, as reasons why the proposal was deserving of the county’s support.
He said the project would create 1,700 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent jobs once the casino was open.
“This is a huge opportunity for Washington County residents,” Carlson said, adding that Saratoga Casino and Raceway currently employs 34 Washington County residents.
Hampton Supervisor Dave O’Brien questioned what the affect would be of Saratoga Casino and Raceway essentially competing with itself for the same gambling dollars.
“We’ve estimated we’ll lose 30 to 35 percent of our business regardless of who gets the license,” Carlson said.
Hebron Supervisor Brian Campbell pointed out that the loss of business could manifest itself in the form of jobs cuts at the Saratoga Casino and therefore the total number of jobs created would be less than what the company was estimated.
White Creek Supervisor Bob Shay also said he was concerned that residents of Saratoga Springs killed plans to build an expanded casino in that city, forcing developers to turn their gaze to East Greenbush.
“The residents of Saratoga Springs rejected it and they were going to get $5 million,” Shay said.
Under the new proposal, Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County will receive no revenue.
John Signor, president of Capital District Off-Track Betting, touted his company’s relationship with Washington County—the county was been a member of OTB for 31 years and according to Signor has provided the county with $4.6 million in that time—and the project’s location in Albany.
He said its location on the Thruway would attract patrons from out of state.
“We’ve made a commitment to focus on out-of-towners. We don’t want to take money from local residents,” Signor said.
He said the company explored locations in Rensselaer County but determined revenues would be greater in Albany.
“We saw calculations in Albany County that were significantly higher than Rensselaer County,” Signor said.
When Granville Supervisor Matt Hicks asked why the location was projected to generate more money than the East Greenbush property, when the two are located only 10 miles away, Signor said Albany’s population and proximity to the Thruway were the main factors.
He said the project, which would include a hotel, equine center and possibly a water park, would create 1,500 construction jobs and 1,800 permanent jobs with an average salary of $46,000.
Both Carlson and Signor said developers would work with Washington County businesses, particularly farmers to provide locally-sourced products at the casinos. They also both said that problem-gambling interventions would be put in place.
Despite nearly an hour of presentations, supervisors said they felt they didn’t have enough information to make a decision.
Capital District OTB has yet to announce who will operate the casino and Carlson wanted more the time to respond to Signor’s claims that the Albany-based project would generate more revenue than the East Greenbush-based project.
The board is expected to revisit the matter next month.
When asked what information they should provide, Campbell responded “they know what information we’re looking for. Whatever will help us make up our mind.”
In other matters, the board approved June 20 at 10:05 a.m. as the date of a public hearing on three local laws that would provide tax exemptions to certain residents.
The laws would provide a sliding scale provision for property tax exemptions for people 65 years of age or older, people with disabilities or low income and people whose children served in the military and were killed in the line of duty.
The board read a proclamation in honor of Ralph Getty on his 60 years of service to the Hebron Fire Department.
“It’s quite an incredible service to our town. We really appreciate what he has done,” Campbell said.
The next meeting will be held at 10 a.m. on June 20.