Casino foes pop up near proposed Florida site
FLORIDA Every day, Tim DuFresne leaves his job cutting masonry for the city of Amsterdam and drives down winding back roads to his home in the rural town of Florida.
“Making that drive,” he said, “it’s all farm fields and trees. For me, it’s like driving into heaven.”
From the front door of his little house, the Mohawk Valley opens in a sprawling vista. He loves that view.
But now, with talk of a possible casino development at a site just two miles from his home, he’s worried the views and relative privacy afforded by country living will give way to crime and ugly developments.
“They’ll need wider roads all over,” he said. “Someone will want to build a bunch of houses. That’s how it goes. And casinos bring riffraff.”
Last month, Montgomery County officials confirmed that a number of developers pursuing one of four state casino licenses were interested in a 520-acre site straddling the Florida-Amsterdam border. Since then, most opinions voiced have been positive. The town of Florida, city of Amsterdam and Montgomery County governments all passed resolutions in favor of a possible casino at that location.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, while not wanting to put all the county’s “economic development eggs in the casino basket,” did say a casino could be great for the area. Economic Development Director Ken Rose sees the whole thing as a mechanism for job creation.
When a casino was proposed in Saratoga Springs, there was significant and vocal community pushback. The resistance was so strong that city leaders recently voted to oppose siting a casino within its borders, reversing an earlier measure in favor of a project.
According to Florida town Supervisor Eric Mead, the project does have some local opposition — Florida residents are just quieter about it.
“The main opposition lives near where the casino might go,” he said.
Last month, Mead and the Town Board held a public hearing to test the waters on the subject of casinos. He said about 40 people showed up, split roughly 60 percent to 40 percent against the idea.
“I had to bring order back to the meeting at one point,” he said.
Despite the mainly negative response, the board passed a resolution that night leaving the door open to casino development. According to Mead, most of the meeting attendees lived near the cornfield that could one day sprout slot machines.
“I couldn’t just listen to them,” he said. “From everyone I’ve talked to, from everyone whose called me, the town as a whole is for a casino.”
With people far away from the site generally pro-casino, and many nearer neighbors such as DuFresne against the idea, Mead said there is a bit of a town divide.
“Those against [a casino] are afraid it could increase our crime rate,” he said. “Or they want to keep Florida agricultural.”
Mead himself would love a casino. He’s confident such a project would create jobs and boost tax revenue without boosting crime rates in the process. He’s so confident, he doesn’t mind living within sight of the potential casino location.
“As the crow flies,” he said, “I’d live a mile away. I’d see a casino from my front porch and the Target distribution center from my back porch.”
Right now the Florida-Amsterdam site is just one of many on the minds of casino developers. With a limited number of state licenses — just four to be spread across upstate New York — a Montgomery County casino is far from a sure thing.
In supporting a casino project, Mead is betting his home on the positives — that jobs and prosperity will follow development.
“Lets see if it happens,” he said.
DuFresne isn’t willing to make that bet. He’s heard area land could gain value, but doesn’t care. A dozen years ago he moved to his current home after decades in Amsterdam.
“I spent 47 years on the same city street,” he said. “I watched it decay.”
He said when he was a child, neighbors played ball in that street. People took care of their houses. Now, he said, his old neighborhood is run-down and full of crime. He moved to his hilltop home to get away from crime. A casino, he believes, will bring the crime to him.
“If they build a casino,” he said, “I’ll just move further out into the sticks.”