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Gambling panel picks 3 upstate sites for casinos

Proponents and opponents of casinos gathered Dec. 17,

Proponents and opponents of casinos gathered Dec. 17, 2014, at the Empire State Plaza in Albany for the announcement of which state regions had been picked for casino sites. Photo Credit: Newsday / Yancey Roy

ALBANY -- A state gambling panel under the auspices of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo selected three upstate casino sites Wednesday, but bypassed a chance to license the maximum number of sites and to locate one as close to New York City as possible.

The state's Gaming Facility Location Board decided to authorize three casinos instead of four, citing potential saturation of the market. It authorized Las Vegas-style casinos in Schenectady in the capital region, Tyre (near Seneca Falls) in the Finger Lakes region and Thompson (near Monticello) in the Catskills region after a lengthy review of 16 competing proposals.

In doing so, the board presented a big win to Genting, the Malaysian gambling company tied to Empire Resorts, the company that won the Catskills license. Genting-owned Resorts World already operates the state's largest video slots parlor at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The board's decision dealt blows to big names such as Caesars and the Hard Rock; shut out two bids from the economically ailing Binghamton area; and rejected six for Orange County -- the county closest to Manhattan under the casino-enabling legislation Cuomo shepherded through the State Legislature.

Orange County was viewed as the most lucrative locale by many in the competition. But board chairman Kevin Law, who also leads the Long Island Association, said the five-member panel realized there were significant issues with most of the proposals, either for financing or gaining environmental permits.

Law noted that reviving the Catskills was an initial aim of the legislation. The panel also came to believe that selecting two casinos for the region would have a cannibalizing impact.

"The best thing, we thought, for the sustainability of one casino in the Catskills . . . was to not have another casino," Law said after the selections were announced. "To give it the best shot at success, we chose one."

The three casinos aren't New York's only gambling facilities: There are five American Indian-run casinos and nine video slots parlors at horse racing tracks, often called "racinos." But they will be the first state-sanctioned casinos with table games.

Developers will have to pay between $20 million and $70 million for casino licenses, depending on location.

The decision, announced at a packed hearing room at the Empire State Plaza government complex, drew strong reactions.

Environmentalists cheered the rejection of a separate Genting proposal for Tuxedo, Orange County. They worried it would be picked because it was the closest to New York City.

In contrast, Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural was livid and called the selections "idiotic."

Gural, who competed for a Southern Tier casino and contributed money to promote the 2013 constitutional amendment that sanctioned casinos, said the selections could drive racinos such as his out of business and failed to help one of the state's most financially troubled areas.

"This is a devastating impact on the racinos in the state that have provided millions of dollars to the state, and our thanks is this idiotic decision?" Gural told reporters.

Combined with the governor's decision earlier Wednesday to ban certain types of natural gas drilling, Gural said the Cuomo administration dealt a double blow to his region.

"Why don't you just tell them they should all move someplace else?" Gural said. "Is there a more depressed area than Elmira? Binghamton? Tioga County?"

Cuomo, speaking before the gambling panel announced locations, cheered the potential economic benefits of casinos.

"The state is not putting in a penny. We are not putting any money on the table," the Democrat said. "We have only upside in this."

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