Newest casino pitch hits close to home
Whenever a new location for a casino in the Capital Region is proposed, I try to imagine whether it’s suitable.
Is the old Alco property in Schenectady a good location? The riverfront in Rensselaer? The city of Saratoga Springs?
I’ve found it fairly easy to consider the appropriateness of these places, mainly because I don’t live anywhere near them. For instance, the Alco site seems to have potential, when viewed from a distance. But I’d probably have a different take on the matter if I resided right next-door.
I wouldn’t say that the casino proposed for Albany is right next-door to my apartment.
But it’s pretty close — about three miles away.
Do I really want a casino that close to me?
Under the plan unveiled by Capital Gaming, there would be a 63,000-square-foot casino, 275-room resort-style hotel and 40,000-square-foot indoor water park on a 60-acre parcel of land near state Thruway Exit 23 on the city’s south side.
The first in a series of public meetings and forums on the $300 million project, known as E23, was held Wednesday night at Albany’s Giffen Elementary School, and I expect that the discussion surrounding the project will heat up in coming weeks.
A new group, called No Casinos in the Capital District, has formed to oppose it, while more than 40 business owners have formed a coalition to support it.
I can understand where both groups are coming from.
Those who support the project point to the jobs it will create, the tax revenue it will generate and the tourists it might draw to the city. Well, I like the idea of jobs, tax revenue and increased tourism, too. I want my neighbors to be employed and for out-of-towners to spend their hard-earned dollars in my community. I want the city’s fiscal picture to improve.
But I’m still having a tough time getting on board with the idea of a casino in Albany, mainly because I doubt it will fulfill its promise and because problem gambling will almost certainly rise once the facility is built. For both reasons, I’m skeptical when I hear people say a casino will make life in Albany better.
Grim news articles suggest that casinos are struggling, that there are already too many casinos in America to sustain them all and that in the wake of the recession people are gambling less.
Earlier this month, Businessweek reported that casino revenue in many states is dropping and that International Game Technology, the world’s largest maker of slot machines, is laying people off because of a decrease in its North American gambling operations. And states that recently legalized live-table gaming have been disappointed with the results.
“Financial projections have often been made with a gambler’s sense of optimism,” the article states. “Ohio voters were told to expect more than $1.42 billion annually in gambling revenue when they approved the state’s first four casinos in 2009. The take was $821 million last year.”
However, the piece also notes that the push to build casinos has hurt business at older facilities, particularly in New Jersey, Las Vegas and Mississippi. Right now, 39 states permit some form of casino gambling, up from just two in 1988, which means that most people can gamble closer to home. That’s bad news if you’re expecting tourists to flock to your city to gamble.
In writing this, I realize I’m arguing against a casino proposal that in many ways is very similar to a proposal I expressed some tentative support for: the Alco project. I won’t say I was wrong about the Alco proposal, exactly — if you’re going to build a casino in the Capital Region, it’s a perfectly decent site. But I will admit that I had to make a real effort to view siting a casino on Schenectady’s riverfront in a positive light.
As locations go, the Albany site might be a little better than the Alco property. But I don’t really want a casino there.
And it has everything to do with proximity.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.