By Maddie Samuell
It was announced on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 that Schenectady would be the site of a new $300 million casino and hotel and a $150 million harbor, called the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated in 2013 that casinos would be built throughout the state in different regions in order to create more jobs and increase state revenue.
The Hudson Valley and Capital Region was one of the areas selected for a casino. Last year the exact site of the casino was unconfirmed, as East Greenbush, Schoharie County, Rensselaer and Saratoga were considered as possible locations before Schenectady was chosen.
It was also reported that there will be casinos built in Sullivan and Seneca Counties. The announcement elicited various reactions from people in Schenectady and the surrounding communities.
While the official website for the casino boasts it will create “approximately 1,200 permanent, high quality jobs, bringing in millions in tax revenue to the city, county and city school district, and attract a projected 2.8 million visitors to the City of Schenectady,” many people remain skeptical.
In 2013, when it was initially announced that up to seven casinos could be authorized for the purpose of creating state revenue and jobs, Schenectady County voted against the ballot measure by a margin of 54.3 percent to 45.7 percent. While some residents agree that this could boost tourism and aid in Schenectady’s revitalization, others worry that this could increase crime and gambling problems in the area.
There are also questions as to how the new resort could impact Union, because it will be located less than a mile from campus. Director of Media and Public Relations for Union Phillip Wajda stated, “Yes we have some concerns about the casino’s proximity to campus. But we are looking forward to working with city officials and the casino’s developers to address those concerns.”
He did not elaborate on the nature of these concerns and said that Union would offer no “further comment beyond the statement at this time.” The college’s administration made a similar statement to Schenectady Councilman Vince Riggi in July before the casino was definite.
“President Ainlay stands by his statement that we are supportive of Schenectady’s ongoing revitalization efforts and understand the interest in bringing revenues and jobs to the city. We stand ready to work with city leaders to ensure that any and all revitalization efforts dovetail with our responsibility to our students,” Wajda continued.
Before it was officially decided that the casino would be coming to Schenectady, a group that consisted of community members formed to oppose the casino.
Now that the decision is final, they have adjusted their goals to try to protect the community against the problems that may arise due to the casino’s presence.
The group’s website now reads, “Stop casino-made problems in Schenectady. Now that it’s coming, let’s find solutions.” It aims to voice the community’s concerns and ultimately help reach solutions.
In an opinion article submitted to the Daily Gazette in June 2014, resident of Niskayuna Carol Hyde voiced her concerns over the casino’s proximity to Union, stating, “It’s very, very sad to contemplate that one of our oldest, most prominent and respected academic institutions may fall under the shadow of a slot-machine parlor.” She commented on the fact that students may be more inclined to go to the casino and gamble rather than study.
Because the minimum age for gambling at the casino, for both the gaming tables and the slot machines, will be 21, only a small number of students will be permitted to go, which may decrease any impact on the college or its students.
Kelsey Hyde ’15, no relation to Carol Hyde, took an optimistic stance on the arrival of the casino in Schenectady. “I’m sure alumni will like it because it will give them some place to stay and a fun thing to do when they come back to visit Union.” She also commented that the casino will provide many new jobs, which will be a boost for the community and the economy.
The casino will be built on a brownfield that was formerly the site of the American Locomotive Company, which was one of the two companies that made Schenectady an important center for industry during the 20th century.
The site has been unused ever since ALCO left in 1969, and the city officials look forward to utilizing this long-empty lot.
According to The Legislative Gazette, the new casino and harbor will span 60 acres, and the casino itself will be 50,000 square feet with 1,150 slot machines and 66 gaming tables, a spa, a 124-room hotel, retail stores, a banquet hall and a steakhouse.
Construction of the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor is slated to begin within a few months, with hopes that it will be open in early 2017.
While the community may see some negative impacts, many people are hoping that the casino will increase foot-traffic and breathe new life into the Electric City.