Schenectady Casino: All That Glitters is not Gold

Plans for building a new casino in Schenectady have been approved but that has not stopped local opposition to, or skepticism about, the project.  On Facebook, Jake Palmateer posts: “People are smoking crack if they think the casino in Schenectady will bring 3 million visitors each year” (Palmateer, 2015).  Opponents cite examples of the increased crime, traffic and gambling addiction that other municipalities have experienced after welcoming a new casino (Hughes, 2014).

Supporters of the development project point to the increased tax revenue and new jobs that will result from the project as well as “the continued revitalization of Schenectady” which includes the clean-up and redevelopment of “one of the oldest brownfields in the nation” (DeMasi, 2014).  Support for the project was reinforced by public relations efforts made by the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, the project’s development partners, which include the following video:

(Schenectady is Ready, n.d.)

In addition, the casino project was broadly supported by local politicians as well as Governor Cuomo (Hughes, 2014; McKinley, 2015).  With widespread support and a dazzling PR campaign, public support was all but shored up.

Like many close to the long suffering community of Schenectady, I originally supported the casino plan.  But, after researching the phenomenon of the local casino, I’m not so sure.  I have heard little about solutions to address potential pitfalls and this, quite frankly, concerns me.  What is missing from all of the hype surrounding the project is a responsible and thorough assessment of what the casino could mean to the community. Potential negative outcomes need to be explored.  According to vocal opponents of the plan, city leaders gave little consideration to naysayers and failed to conduct “studies on [the casino’s] impact on the environment, traffic and the economy” (Hughes, 2014).

“’The problem is it’s public funds they’re using and I don’t see any accountability for it,’” said Schenectady City Councilman Vincent Riggi” (Vincent Riggi as quoted in Stanforth, 2015).

Furthermore, the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming have “offered few details about the construction costs, size, and number of construction and permanent jobs Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor might bring to the region” (Nelson, 2014).

While the plan is beautiful, and the redevelopment of the Schenectady’s brownfield site appealing, little attention has been given to the data and models that exist from other local casinos around the country.  According to the National Association of Realtors, “the impact of casinos on local property values is ‘unambiguously’ negative” (Frum, 2013).  Atlantic City serves as an ominous example:

When New Jersey allowed casinos into Atlantic City back in 1977, casino advocates promised that gambling would revive the town’s fading economy.  The casinos did create jobs as promised.  But merchants who expected foot traffic to return to the city’s main street, Atlantic Avenue, were sorely disappointed.  The money that comes to the casinos, stays in the casinos.  Liquor stores and cash-for-gold outlets now line the city’s once-premier retail strip. (Frum, 2013)

Today, Atlantic City has “trouble sustaining even a single grocery store” (Frum, 2014).

With the substantial influx of local casinos, “the casino market is nearing saturation, if it is not already saturated” (Frum, 2014).  The Schenectady casino will be competing with the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, a new casino in Thompson, NY, Turning Stone Resort Casino and a new casino in Springfield, MA all less than 125 miles away.  Here is what WNYT said about the new Springfield casino on Twitter:

(Regional casino projects pose competition for Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, 2015)

The local competition will mean less tourism and smaller earnings (Frum, 2014).

If Schenectady’s casino doesn’t substantially increase tourism, where will its foot traffic come from?  The city itself.  And, it won’t be the young and affluent that contribute most to the casino’s earnings.  According to the Institute for American Values (IAV), “low-income workers and retirees provide the bulk of the customers for the modern casino industry” (Frum, 2013).  Schenectady’s casino could actually exacerbate the city’s poverty problem.

As a Niskayuna resident, I would love the new casino development project to benefit Schenectady.  But, without a plan to overcome the obstacles I outlined above, I remain very skeptical.  I can’t help but feel that our city leaders have been blinded by the promise of substantial, and pain free, government revenue.

“’You know how much money it cost the state?  Zero, nada, niente,’” Governor Cuomo said. “’Which makes me very happy’” (Governor Cuomo as quoted in McKinley, 2015).

Steve Marcus/Reuters

For more information, please visit:

The Times Union

The Albany Business Review

David Giacalone’s blog, Stop the Schenectady Casino

IAV’s research on Gambling

National Association of Realtors report on Economic Impact Of Casinos on Home Prices

Reflection

When I picked the casino development project as a topic, I intended to write an article supporting the project.  However, as I began to research the subject in-depth, a lot of questions were raised as to the thoroughness and soundness of the plan.  I felt I had a responsibility to elucidate some of these issues and how they may apply to the Schenectady casino.

To support my argument, I chose articles published by respected local and national outlets written by journalists who used thorough research, multiple sources and varying viewpoints to tell their stories.  While my piece is clearly an opinion piece, I also used multiple sources from different viewpoints and clearly outlined the viewpoints of proponents of the casino project.  I believe readers of my web page will see that my piece was soundly (and ethically) based on thorough research of credible resources.

References

DeMasi, M. (2014, December 18). Why Schenectady’s casino proposal finished on top – Albany Business Review. Retrieved March 20, 2015, from http://www.bizjournals.com/albany/morning_call/2014/12/why-schenectadys-300-millioncasino-proposal.html?page=all

Frum, D. (2014, August 7). A Good Way to Wreck a Local Economy: Build Casinos. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/08/a-good-way-to-wreck-a-local-economy-build-casinos/375691/

Frum, D. (2013, September 24). Opinion: The harm that casinos do – CNN.com. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/24/opinion/frum-casinos-harm/

Hughes, C. (2014, June 7). Stockade residents rally against Schenectady casino plan. Retrieved March 20, 2015, from http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Stockade-residents-rally-against-Schenectady-5536597.php

Mckinley, J. (2015, February 27). Overall Market Factored in Rejections of Casino Bids, Panel Says. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/28/nyregion/overall-market-factored-in-rejections-of-casino-bids-panel-says.html?_r=0

Nelson, P. (2014, May 20). Galesi to detail Schenectady casino plans Tuesday. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Galesi-to-detail-Schenectady-casino-plans-Tuesday-5490688.php

Palmateer, J. (2015, March 24). Facebook Search. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from https://www.facebook.com/search/str/schenectady casino/keywords_top

Regional casino projects pose competition for Schenectady’s Rivers Casino. (2015, March 24). Retrieved March 28, 2015, from https://twitter.com/WNYT

Schenectady is Ready. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGTbHWNKCG4

Stanforth, L. (2015, March 22). Schenectady casino developer benefits from 5 years of tax breaks. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-local/article/Schenectady-casino-developer-benefits-from-5-6150479.php

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