Galesi Group teams up with billionaire to pursue $300 million casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady

Plans were unveiled today for a $300 million-plus casino on old industrial land along the riverfront in Schenectady, New York, a project that supporters say would create hundreds of jobs and would be superior to other competing casino proposals in the region.

“We think we’ll generate the highest revenue for the state because we have the best site and plan and we have tremendous support from the city and county,” said Neil Bluhm, the billionaire chairman of Rush Street Gaming LLC, a casino operator based in Chicago.

Bluhm was joined by Schenectady city and county officials and local business leaders inside The GE Theater at Proctors to announce plans for what would be called Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor if approved by state officials.

Bluhm is teaming with The Galesi Group of Rotterdam, a commercial real estate giant in the region, to build a casino on the site of the former American Locomotive manufacturing plant.

The Galesi Group has been working for years to transform the 60-acre site off Erie Boulevard into an upscale development filled with apartments, condos, restaurants, retail stores, hotel and a marina. Construction of the first phase is expected to start in the fall.

A casino, if built, would open about two years after winning a state license.

Rush Street Gaming becomes the third operator to identify a specific site in the Capital Region where it wants to build a casino. The others are in Albany and East Greenbush, though more may surface before the June 30 application deadline.

Four casino gambling licenses will be awarded this fall in three regions upstate, including the Capital Region. No region can have more than two casinos.

Bluhm, who is in his mid-70s, talked briefly about growing up poor, and being raised by a single mom. He got a college scholarship and wound up starting a real estate business with a friend. He became very successful. He didn’t mention his personal net worth, estimated by Forbes to be $2.6 billion, or his ranking as one of the world’s richest men.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Schenectady County Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski both said they fully support a casino, as did Chuck Steiner, president and CEO of the Chamber of Schenectady County.

McCarthy said the construction alone would create more than 1,000 jobs. The number of permanent jobs, as well as the size of the gaming floor, have not been released. More details will be announced in the coming weeks, Bluhm said.

Although some city residents have expressed concerns or opposition to a casino, McCarthy said he’s confident a majority of the City Council will vote in favor of a resolution supporting the casino. The resolution is a requirement of the casino applications.

Galesi Group Chief Operating Officer David Buicko said a casino would be “game changer” for the city, building on the redevelopment that has happened downtown over the past decade. Buicko was approached by several casino operators but Bluhm stood out, in part because both men felt they could trust each other on a handshake deal.

Bluhm said he was excited by the riverfront location and encouraged by the activity he saw in Schenectady when he visited the city, including the new restaurants and other businesses downtown.

He compared the Mohawk Harbor site to a casino his company built five years ago along the riverfront in Pittsburgh, a city that, like Schenectady, was decimated by the loss of thousands of industrial jobs. Pittsburgh has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Schenectady has made considerable progress, but more work remains.

Besides Pittsburgh, Rush Street Gaming runs casinos in Philadelphia, and Des Plaines, Illinois near Chicago. Bluhm also worked with other investors 10 years ago to open his first casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario. That casino, which draws about 4 million visitors annually, was named “Ontario’s Favorite Casino” for six consecutive years by readers of the Toronto Sun.

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