State keeps push for casino fair and square
The casino competition is entering a new phase that I like to think of as the Shenanigans Phase.
As in: Get ready for lots of shenanigans.
Over the next few months, we’re going to see developers and municipalities scramble to demonstrate local support for the casinos they aspire to build. We’re going to see wheeling and dealing, as pressure is brought to bear on recalcitrant lawmakers. We’re going to see strange alliances and complicated funding proposals.
Much to my surprise, the state appears serious about the requirement that developers obtain local support for their casino projects. And not just a vague, generic declaration of support, but a site- and project-specific resolution.
In other words, it’s not enough to tell the state Gaming Facility Location Board that there’s support for building a casino somewhere in Schenectady. Developers need to be able to show that there’s support for a $300 million casino at the Alco site.
The Gaming Facility Location Board’s strict standards will almost certainly cut down on shenanigans involving resolutions of local support.
In April, the East Greenbush Town Board passed a resolution of support before the community was known to be in the running for a casino. Days later, Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Churchill Downs announced their proposed casino project for the town. To outside observers, this seemed pretty sneaky. If nobody in town knew about the project, or had the opportunity to weigh in on it, was the resolution’s passage really an indication of local support? Or did it simply create the illusion of support?
Whatever the case, the East Greenbush resolution is not valid, and the town must vote again on a more specific resolution.
Will the second vote proceed as smoothly and quietly as the first? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. One thing I’m certain of: We’ll hear more from casino opponents this time around.
Schenectady has yet to pass a resolution of local support, though not for lack of trying. Earlier this month, the City Council was prepared to vote on a resolution, but it was pulled at the last minute due to a lack of support and also, according to Council President Margaret King, because it wasn’t needed yet.
If the vote had been held that night, it would have ended in a 3-3 tie. King told the Gazette’s Kathleen Moore that she was hoping more council members would “come around” and support the casino if given more time.
“Let’s get everybody’s questions answered and then move forward,” she said.
I suspect that getting everybody’s questions answered will involve persuading council members that a casino is a great idea and they should support it.
And I have to give King credit. She made a smart decision to postpone the casino vote until she could be assured of getting the outcome she wanted.
Judging from the impressed reactions to the casino proposal unveiled by the Galesi Group and Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, most of the council members who are on the fence, such as Carl Erikson, will come around. The resolution will pass, and it will be tough to argue that it wasn’t specific enough, or that Schenectady residents were unaware that a casino had been proposed for their city.
Like Schenectady, the city of Albany has yet to pass a resolution of support, as a vote scheduled for earlier this month was delayed. This decision now looks like a smart tactical move, as it will enable the city to get all of its ducks in a row and make the case that residents had the opportunity to provide feedback and comments throughout the process.
You can argue that, in postponing their votes on resolutions of local support, both Albany and Schenectady have engaged in some shenanigans. Maybe so. I’m sure there are all sorts of interesting conversations taking place behind the scenes, as developers and municipalities strive to demonstrate that they have the best plan for a casino in the Capital Region, and the best site. And I’m sure these discussions present an upbeat vision of live-table gaming and that even the most skeptical public officials can find their opposition to casinos eroding.
Right now, I think Albany and East Greenbush are most likely to win the casino competition, with Schenectady finishing third. But you never know.
Schenectady has been smart and careful and has navigated the process skillfully. It wouldn’t surprise me if the city was able to capitalize on the missteps of its opponents and emerge as the front runner. Of course, this will only be possible if the city avoids making costly missteps of its own.
And keeps the shenanigans to a minimum.