Activists speak out against casino

Local business alliance seeks involvement as process moves forward

A group of Bethlehem activists are speaking out in opposition of a casino proposed for Exit 23 in the City of Albany.

The group, named Bethlehem Community Voices, spoke at the Bethlehem Town Board meeting on Wednesday, May 14. Members said they are opposed to any casino proposed for the Capital District, and the group has aligned itself with Occupy Albany and other casino opposition groups in the area.

“We started this effort about three weeks ago, right after the announcement of the proposal,” said Pam Skripak, a founding member of Bethlehem Community Voices. “I sent an e-mail to about 400 people to see who else was concerned and have been circulating petitions.”

Skripak said the group first came together four years ago to speak out against the sale of Normanside Country Club but has been inactive since that time. She still had the e-mail list, so she used it to reach out to others in the community. It was eventually decided the group should change its name.

“This isn’t just about the casino,” said Skripak. “We wanted to start a group that could be involved in various other community matters and wanted a name to reflect that. This is the first project of our newly formed group.”

A petition circulating the town now has about 400 signatures of residents opposed to the Exit 23 casino. Two other online petitions have been created through change.org, one for residents of Bethlehem and a second for residents of Albany County.

Members of the group said their main concern is that the local economy will not benefit as much as developers have said. Skripak said other communities where casinos are developed have typically seen a bump to the economy in the beginning, but it then starts to wane.

The proposed casino would be built on 60 acres of land off Noonan Lane in Albany. The plans call for a 63,000-square-foot gaming floor, a 275-room hotel, a 40,000-square-foot water park, restaurants, an indoor horse-riding facility and trails.

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