Residents voice support, concerns for Schenectady casino

SCHENECTADY COUNTY — A majority of Schenectady residents who attended a hearing on Monday said they are in favor of a full-scale casino in the area to help boost economic growth, create jobs and generate revenue for the city and the county.

More than 50 local residents — with another dozen people pushing out the door — attended the Schenectady County Legislature’s public hearing Monday evening on a proposed full-scale casino between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River.

“That $450 million number is just too significant to overlook,” said Bobby Mallozzi, owner of Villa Italia in Schenectady, referring to the total price tag of the project, which also includes apartments and a hotel. “I express my support and I hope everyone does the same.”

Mary Ann Ruscitto said she lives close to the former American Locomotive Co. site in Schenectady, where the casino would be located, and is “absolutely in favor of this project” because it is expected to create approximately 1,200 permanent jobs for local job-seekers.

“I am excited for students at Schenectady County Community College. I went through the hotel and restaurant management program at 57 years old and it was the best time of my life,” she said. SCCC offers degree programs in gaming, hotel and restaurant management. “This gives students a reason to stay in Schenectady and stay right here and get a job. As for crime, we have that in Schenectady already.”

Rotterdam-based developer Galesi Group is partnering with Rush Street Gaming of Chicago to build a $300 million casino — the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor — that would include full table and slot gaming, restaurants, a riverfront patio area and parking garage.

“We’re committed to building the highest quality casinos that we can and fit them in with the communities,” said Greg Carlin, CEO of Rush Street Gaming. “When we came to Schenectady we knew pretty much immediately after visiting downtown and the site that this would be the best site for a casino in the Capital Region.”

But some local residents are concerned about an increase in crime, failure to create jobs and other issues that could arise after building a casino in Schenectady.

“All of the promised jobs and revenue and benefits only materializes if the casino is effective and enticing tens of thousands of people to lose hundreds of millions of their own dollars,” said Daniel Hill of Glenville. “That is not an engine of economic growth.”

Several people opposed to the casino also spoke. One sign that simply read “No casinos!” was held up in the crowd by two people sitting in the front row.

“My biggest concern is on the impact it will have on the lives of people in this area,” said Mabel Leon, a Stockade resident. “There are some people who have expendable incomes and can afford to gamble it away. But there are many people who cannot.”

Leon said she is also concerned about traffic in the area. She pointed to construction on Erie Boulevard as an example. She is also concerned about development issues on the site, with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s small nuclear training facility next-door.

David Buicko, chief operating officer of Galesi Group, was joined by company Chairman Francesco Galesi — who does not make many public appearances — to tout the potential benefits of a casino. After the two-hour meeting, Buicko said he believes residents’ concerns are valid, but said a casino, overall, would be a positive driver for the local economy.

“Some are very valid concerns. Some people are against gambling for the sake of gambling,” he said. “But you are not going to solve that problem as well as alcoholism and not closing every bar and restaurant. You have some great questions from the public, but the economic impact of this casino is going to be incredible.”

Revenue from a casino in Schenectady, according to the state Division of the Budget, is expected to provide $11.5 million for the city and county, with Schenectady schools gaining $2 million. Galesi is also in the process of building apartments and a hotel on the site, bringing the total price tag of the Mohawk Harbor project to $450 million.

The Schenectady City Council plans to vote on a resolution of support for a casino during its meeting next Monday. The state Gaming Commission said a resolution from the host municipality has to be approved before the June 30 application deadline.

There are four other locations in the Capital Region vying for a casino license, including Albany, East Greenbush, Cobleskill and Amsterdam. All municipalities have voted on resolutions except the Albany Common Council.

“Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor — simply put — is the best location for a casino in the Capital Region,” Buicko said. “I have been in Schenectady since 1975, and we can go toe-to-toe with any one of the competition. We have to reduce our taxes in this community, and this project will do that. We want to complement Proctors, we want to complement the restaurants and we want to create jobs for our kids.”

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