T he Washington County Board of Supervisors is throwing its chips behind an Off-Track Betting proposed gaming facility.
The board voted last Friday to approve a resolution in support of a proposed casino at De Laet’s Landing in Rensselaer.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway, in partnership with Churchill Downs, has also proposed building a casino in Rensselaer County and has asked for Washington County’s support. But officials cited the county’s long-standing relationship with OTB and the increased revenue it may receive as a result, as the reason for their support.
Washington County has been a participating member of Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting for more than three decades and during that time has received more than $4.5 million in revenue from the organization.
“We’ve been partners with OTB for 31 years and they’ve been a good partner. We know the horse we’re riding,” Putnam Supervisor John LaPointe said.
Both OTB and Saratoga Casino and Raceway pitched their proposals to Washington County last month. OTB, however, scraped their plan citing “land development constraints” and shifted the location from Exit 23 on the Thruway to De Laet’s Landing. The change came several days after the Town of Bethlehem rejected the plan.
The new site would be located on a 24-acre lot on the Hudson River in Rensselaer near an Amtrak Station and across the river from downtown Albany. It was announced last Thursday that OTB is partnering with Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway has proposed building a $300 million casino in East Greenbush. They had originally sought to construct the casino in Saratoga Springs but voters rejected the proposal.
George Carlson, vice president of external affairs for Saratoga Casino and Raceway, attended Friday’s meeting and asked the board to consider his company’s proposal.
“We have the support of Rensselaer County and it’s very important we get the support of Washington County,” he said.
Based on estimates released by the gaming commission, Washington County can expect to receive $689,000 in unrestricted local government aid and $1.13 million in local school aid. Those numbers, however, can vary depending on the success of the casino. And because of Washington County’s partnership with OTB, they stand to receive additional revenue.
John Signor, president of Capital District OTB, told members of the board earlier this month, that if the company was successful in its bid to build a casino, that Washington County could receive an additional $60,000 annually.
But the impact any casino will have on Washington County remains unknown.
Granville Supervisor Matt Hicks, who voted to support the casino said the money will be a “nice shot in the arm” for the county and local school districts, but Washington County may be too far removed to reap the other benefits of a casino.
“The revenue will be nice, although we won’t know how much until it happens. But I don’t think it’s going to create jobs for local residents or be a place to source many local products. It’s just not close enough.”
White Creek Supervisor Bob Shay questioned whether the economic benefits outweigh the potential societal consequences.
“What happened to growing businesses that are productive? I don’t think this is way to grow our small businesses. It is it inviting? Is it tempting? Sure. But at what cost?”
Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idelman said she preferred the state focus on creating jobs by investing in infrastructure.
“I have some concerns with this (casino gambling) being a cornerstone of economic development,” Idelman said.
Jackson Supervisor Alan Brown wanted developers to commit to purchasing agricultural products from Washington County and chided Carlson after he cited Saratoga Olive Oil as an example of a locally grown product the company would offer at the casino.
“Are there olive trees in Saratoga County? Are there olive trees in Washington County?” Brown asked.
But Brian Campbell, Hebron Supervisor and county budget officer, argued that any revenue the county receives from a casino is a boon to taxpayers.
“These are all just ideas that are two years away and it’s hard to get behind ideas when we don’t know what they’ll be, but if he can get $50,000 extra to fix roads, then hallelujah. That’s $50,000 less in property taxes we’ll have to raise,” Campbell said.
While the support of Washington County will help, it will not be a determining factor in what site is ultimately chosen.
The state’s gaming commission will consider three factors when it sits down and determines final locations—a total of four casinos will be built; one in the capital district, one in the eastern Southern Tier and two in the Catskills—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.”
“I think that while we need to do it, when you get down to it, we are all pawns in a big game and have little say in where this goes. This (the proposed casino) may not happen,” Campbell said.