Mohawk Harbor casino project approved by Schenectady City Council

David Buicko won a needed endorsement Monday night from the Schenectady City Council for a proposed casino that is a key part of the Galesi Group’s $450 million Mohawk Harbor project.

The endorsement came on a 5-2 vote after more than three hours of listening to more than 80 people speak out on the issue.

Billionaire Neil Bluhm, the chairman and founder of Rush Street Gaming, sat with Buicko in the front row through the council meeting.

Developers competing to build a casino in upstate New York need a local government body’s endorsement to qualify for consideration for a state license. The deadline for the application to the state is June 30.

Buicko, president and chief operation officer of the Galesi Group in Rotterdam, New York, is engaged in an ambitious redevelopment of a mile-long stretch of the Mohawk River on the edge of Schenectady.

The redevelopment of an industrial brownfield that once housed American Locomotive Co. factories will include apartments, condos, two hotels, retail and a harbor dug out of the river.

Recently Buicko teamed up with Rush Street Gaming of Chicago to include a casino at the site.

John Mootooveren cited the promise of new jobs and the boost to the nearby Schenectady County Community College as reasons for his yes vote. SCCC recently added a casino gaming program and also has hospitality and culinary programs, which are expected to prepare students to compete for jobs created by the casino.

“We are talking about a $450 million investment in the city of Schenectady,” Mootooveren said. The councilman acknowledged there are risks with the casino. “We need to take the risks in Schenectady at this time in order to move forward.”

Carl Erikson said he had wavered back and forth before deciding the pros out weighed the cons.

Chris Spraragen, CEO and president of Schenectady Electric and Hardware, and Antonio Civitella, CEO of Transfinder Corp., the school bus routing software company headquartered downtown, along with restaurateurs Angelo Mazzone and Bobby Mallozzi were among the local business leaders speaking in support of the casino, most for economic development and job creation reasons.

The standing-room audience in the council chambers at Schenectady City Hall was sharply divided on the issue.

Opponents decried the morality of gambling, warned of an over-saturation of gambling opportunities, particularly casinos, and questioned the economic benefits. Several expressed concerns about what a local casino would do for quality of life in the city and the threat that a casino could create for problem gamblers.

In voting against the casino endorsement, councilman Vincent Riggi said the council was rushing to judgment.

“We really don’t have the information we need to make a good conscious decision,” Riggi said. “I think the people have been shortchanged in that part.”

“There are no quick fixes,” Riggi said to Schenectady’s economic challenges.

Council member Marion Porterfield cast the other no vote.

Ed Kosiur, Leesa Perazzo and Margaret “Peggy” King voted to support the resolution endorsing the casino.

The vote was part of the application process and does not mean Schenectady will get the casino. Once the application is submitted it will be reviewed by the state with other applications before licenses are granted later in the year. A total of four casinos will be approved in four upstate regions. At least one casino is expected to be approved in the Capital Region.

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