After nearly two dozen people spoke out against the proposed casino at Exit 23, the Town of Bethlehem passed a resolution in opposition to the project.
The resolution was passed Wednesday, May 28, following an informal public hearing. Representatives from Flaum Management and Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp. had been scheduled to make a presentation at the meeting, but they backed out, stating “it would be premature to present information to the town board” before their analysis on local impacts of the project were complete.
“Their rationale for non-attendance for a hearing they initially asked to be included in doesn’t hold water,” said Supervisor John Clarkson in a letter to the town board. “We never anticipated that their transportation analysis would be complete by this point in time. My letter asked for it by early June.”
Nearly two dozen people spoke against the proposal, some of them residents of the City of Albany and others members of the newly formed Bethlehem Community Voices. Many said they were concerned about the impact the casino would have on the local economy, and that the state could become over-saturated with casinos. Others questioned the types of jobs the casino would bring and worried about an increase in crime.
At the same meeting, the Bethlehem Police Department provided the Town Board with a statement regarding potential problems and complications.
“This proposal, if built, will change the character of the town in many respects,” the statement read.
The concerns included an increase in traffic issues and crime due to an influx of people, which would “raise demand on police services.” The police department also said a casino’s population is “extremely transient in nature,” which would make if hard for the police force to complete investigations.
“The impact on the detective office in regards to follow-up investigations would be profound,” read the letter. “Currently the office is handling a wide array of identity theft [cases], and while they are typically viewed as white collar cases, the complexity to these cases and types of offenses, including credit card scams, counterfeit credit cards, counterfeit currency, as well as cons, tricks and swindles, would undoubtedly increase.”
Only one resident spoke in favor of the proposal, saying he was worried that if the casino were approved in a neighboring location, Albany County would lose the benefits and economic opportunities that come with it.
According to the developers, the project is expected to bring 1,800 permanent jobs and 1,500 construction jobs. It will also provide an annual hosting fee of $11.5 million to be split between the city and county, an estimated $5 million in property taxes for the city, $2 million for scholarships and social programs, as well as funds to the county through sales and hotel taxes.
The original plans also called for the casino to be built on 60 acres of land off Noonan Lane in Albany, with a 63,000-square-foot gaming floor, and 275-room hotel. Also proposed was a 40,000-square-foot water park, restaurants, and an indoor horse-riding facility and trails.
But those plans may now change as the newly announced operators, the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, take more of a role in planning the casino.
“Originally the plan was presented as a casino, and it included a water park and an equestrian facility,” said Clarkson. “In meetings since, the developer has said that those are illustrations and concepts, and may in fact not come to pass.”
Councilwoman Joanne Dawson was absent from the meeting, but the remainder of the board agreed that most of the data showed casino gambling did not produce the long-term economic viability for local communities.
Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn said generating revenue for the government should not be a community representative’s “end all, be all.”
“We should also be making the types of public policy decisions that are good for our communities,” said Kuhn. “I think having a single-minded philosophy … is being short-sighted.”
He said he hoped by Bethlehem putting forth a resolution against the casino, other communities might be encouraged to do the same.
Councilman Bill Reinhardt said some may be using the excuse that a casino is bound to happen somewhere in the Capital District, so why now have it be in Albany, but he said he wondered what would happen if all the host communities said no.
Host communities have until the end of the month to put forth a resolution in favor of their local casino proposals in order to validate the application with the state. The state Gaming Commission has said local impacts and public responses could make up 20 percent of the application vetting process.
“What if every community rejected (the proposal.) What would happen then?” said Reinhardt. “I think we ought to find out. I think we ought to see what happens when democracy stands up and says, ‘We don’t want it.’”
The resolution passed on May 28 states:
“It is the sense of the town board of the Town of Bethlehem that our community is opposed to the E-23 Casino Proposal, as well as to other casino proposals within the Capital Region. We are concerned with the welfare of the entire community, the impact on citizens, and we question the long-term economic and fiscal benefit of such ventures. And we intend to reach out to other municipalities, including the city of Albany, and neighboring towns and cities, to see if they too would become involved in this public debate.”