Capital Region casino site odds

roulette wheel by Hakan Dahlstrom Flickr

Spin the wheel!

The other day we joked on Twitter that someone had to be taking bets on the location of the possible Capital Region casino. And Erik was all like, "I'm pretty sure that's your job."

Well, then. Step right up! Let's throw out some odds...

It should be clearly noted that we have no inside info, at all, about any of these sites. This is just a fun way to kick around the possibilities. The odds of this being wrong are... not low.

Saratoga Springs: 3-2

The conventional wisdom had Saratoga pegged as the favorite from the beginning and it still tops the list.

Why it will get the casino: On paper it makes a lot sense. Saratoga already has the racino, which could be expanded/upgraded. There is, of course, the Saratoga Race Course and its summer crowds. The town draws other crowds for its convention center. And it has hotel capacity. Saratoga's a destination.

Why it won't get the casino: Voters in Saratoga County generally -- and Saratoga Springs specifically -- voted against the state constitutional amendment allowing full casinos. There's already organized and vocal opposition to the idea of a Saratoga casino. And Saratoga Springs' new mayor, Joanne Yepsen, has warned that a casino could hurt the city's downtown.

And that might hint at some cultural friction, both in Saratoga and other parts of the Capital Region. Sure, The Track is gambling, but it's also history, it's horses, it's women in fancy hats and men in seersucker suits, it's classy -- or, at least, that's the image a lot of people have in their minds of it. But a casino? That probably conjures something more along the lines of glazed-over people pumping quarters into slot machines, overpriced buffets, tacky lounge acts, and scenes from mob movies. It's not the image Saratoga has of itself.

It's interesting that the opposition to a Saratoga casino has centered on the idea of a "Las Vegas-style" casino. Because of all the possible casino outcomes, a Las Vegas-style joint sounds like the better end of the spectrum. Most modern Vegas casinos are rather swank, with upscale restaurants and other amenities. It's the non-Vegas-type casino that might make us a little (more) worried.

Also: The Cuomo admin has touted casinos as an economic development play -- see the ballot question. Does Saratoga County really need the economic development help?

But, still: Saratoga still looks like the favorite, narrowly. Too many of the pieces are already in place.


A clickable map of how Capital Region cities and towns voted on the constitutional amendment to allow full casinos. The darker the green, the higher the percentage of people who voted in favor of it.

Rensselaer waterfront: 2-1

Apparently three potential casino operators have expressed interest in the Rensselaer waterfront and the mixed-use development that's in (somewhat slow) motion there.

Why it will get the casino: It might have sounded odd at first, but a Rensselaer casino makes more sense as we think about it. That mixed-used development -- DeLaet's Landing -- could probably use an anchor, and a casino could be the hub for a range of other amenities there. The location could be attractive, too: on the river, right across from Albany with a view, maybe with a connector to the train station to bring over downstate visitors.

Another potentially big factor: People in Rensselaer/Rensselaer County actually seem receptive to the idea of a casino. The county is the only one in the region's core to vote for the constitutional amendment, and 59 percent of voters in the city of Rensselaer said yes to it. Rensselaer's mayor, Dan Dwyer, has openly lobbied for it, and the county legislature supported a referendum in favor it.

To put the situation a bit coldly: Saratoga will be fine without a casino, but Rensselaer needs all the help it can get. And if tens (maybe hundreds) of millions of dollars are on the table, Rensselaer is probably more willing than other local municipalities to find a way to make a casino work -- despite whatever problems might come along with it.

Why it won't get the casino: Rensselaer's not exactly a destination in most people's minds. And there's not really anything around the site (right now), so it'd be starting more or less from scratch. (Though maybe that makes it attractive...)

But, still: Hey, why not?!

Dark horse: 4-1

By "dark horse," we basically mean any place that's not one of the other three mentioned.

Why it will get the casino: Because people with the real money and power rarely make their intentions known before they're ready to unfurl their plans. And the smart money could be lying low, waiting to get a better feel for the game before making its play.

So maybe a place like Schenectady (say, the Alco site) or Cohoes -- with ample land needing redevelopment, and perhaps a desire to be a more-willing player -- ends up the surprise choice.

Why it won't get the casino: Because a few of the other sites already mentioned make too much sense.

But, still: Strange things happen, sometimes.

First Prize site: 9-1

Word circulated this week that a company called Capital Gaming LLC has signed a contract to buy the First Prize Center on the Albany/Colonie line, with an interest in developing the site into a casino.

Why it will get the casino: The owners of the site, an old meat packing plant, have been looking for someone to redevelop it for years. And it's been the subject of all sorts of rumors for all sorts of stuff, including retail, thanks in part to potentially great interstate access and visibility off I-90. And it's centrally located in the region, tucked between Colonie and Albany.

Why it won't get the casino: Because word of the possible casino landed with a thud for leaders of both Albany and Colonie. Kathy Sheehan says she has serious reservations. And it sounds like Paula Mahan is trying to shut down the idea right now, citing concerns about its potential effect on the residential neighborhood near the site. And for what it's worth, voters in Albany and Colonie both narrowly opposed the casino amendment.

The state's casino siting process doesn't give local municipalities a way to veto a casino, so maybe the skepticism in Albany and Colonie isn't a fatal road block. But if you're a developer looking to sink millions into this project, and you can't sway the local opinion, do you really want to fight against not one, but two local governments that aren't on board?

But, still: Tons of development money has a way of persuading people, but we get the sense it'd be a difficult push.
____

Earlier on AOA:
+ The First Prize for a casino? And how big is the prize for casinos?
+ Focusing on support for a possible Capital Region casino, town by town

photo: Flickr user Håkan Dahlström (cc)

Comments

"And there's not really anything around the site (right now), so it'd be starting more or less from scratch"

Dere is a view of an All America city right across the river. Whaddya mean starting from scratch? A couple water taxis and bedabing, you got a casino from heaven!

I posted this elsewhere, and it sounds like I'm preaching to the choir... but here it is anyway!

The First Prize Center is such a horrible spot for a casino... Sure, it's right next to I-90, but it's also next to... nothing. Just small neighborhoods, and beyond that, car dealerships and supermarkets on Central Ave. I don't understand why the developers would think it would draw anyone from outside the Capital Region.

The best location within Alb/Schen/Ren counties is absolutely DeLaet's Landing in Rensselaer! It's already slated to be a mix of retail, hotels, condos, and casino-friendly eateries (wasn't Hard Rock rumored to be interested at one point?) It has the best possible view of Albany, is right down the road from the train station - one of our biggest links to downstate - and still right off the highway.

Check out a rendering from the original DeLaet's Landing pitch (from 6 years ago)

People (rightfully) complain that Albany ends up going with the least-creative lowest-bidding boring option for every new development. The proposal for DeLaet's was so not-Albany. It was so out there, that almost nothing has come of it in six years... but if somehow they could get the hotel/casino on that site, the rest of the development would likely follow and it could be really impressive.

One more thing to add - I recently got to see the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA (from the outside, anyway). Bethlehem is not where you'd expect a large, successful casino. It sits directly next to one of the largest once-abandoned structures in the northeast US - the Beth Steel blast furnaces. From what I know of the site's recent history, the casino was built first, when there was no other draw to the immediate area. It has since expanded multiple times, a large hotel has been built, the blast furnace has been turned into the 'Steel Stacks arts, culture and education campus' (which includes theaters, an outdoor festival ground & bandshell, steel manufacturing museums, etc). The transformation is incredible!

So while starting 'from scratch' with a casino in the middle of an area with little draw for tourism may sound odd - it definitely can work!

Bonus with the Rensselaer site - they could finally finish the bridge to nowhere! Extend that dead-end right into a direct ramp to the casino location.

Somehow, I have a really hard time getting revved up about the idea of a business that's going to suck money out of the area and send it back to its corporate home and bring in a bunch of just-like-everywhere-else chain restaurants and shops. I mean, I realize the allure of drawing in the rich clientele from Schuylerville and Feura Bush (not to mention Schenectady), but it still seems a lot more like another plan to pump money from locals to somewhere else.

I've also seen the Bethlehem Sands casino, and am really impressive with how they have developed the area. The "Steel Stacks" concert venue is especially impressive.

My cousin lives very near the casino, and the rear of her condo connects to a "Rails to Trail" path, leading to the casino. One of the surprising downsides she has experienced: the casino buses in people from NYC - there are a contingent of Asians who come down every day, and they often hang out on the trail. They like to catch the Canadian geese, kill them, and bring them back with them for dinner! The police haven't figured out a way to deter this regular behavior.

What about a more rural area than those mentioned already?

I grew up about 6 miles from Turning Stone which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere (aside from the city of Oneida, which isn't much by any means) but I watched it build itself up from a lowly bingo hall to a destination that sustains itself nicely. As long as there's a major highway like the Northway or 90 to get everyone there I'm sure it would do just fine.

It seems like plans to put a casino in any of the areas mentioned above would need to be shoehorned in and wouldn't be welcome by the residents (except Rensselaer maybe)... plus it would just be weird for lack of a better word. It would be really odd being downtown and looking across the Hudson at a big casino.

Latham seems perfect, in the middle of everybody. That's where we should put a building basically designed to suck money out of our parents bank accounts and limit the possible inheritances of future generations. Just another clever way for governments to take money w/o accountability. It's ironic; doesn't NYS's constitution ban casino's?

Since one of the reasons we "need" casinos is that other states are sucking away our gambling money, we shouldn't just try to keep gamblers in-State, we should fight back. I say put a casino on Route 22. Near I-90 could draw Massachusetts gamblers away from their future casino. The further South you go, and the more Connecticut gamblers you might draw. And hopefully all those New Yorkers who would have otherwise gone all the way to Foxwoods will be driven there as well.

A K-8 school, the Hebrew Academy of the Capital District on Russell Road, is a mere 350 yards from the First Prize Center. The Albany Church of Christ is even closer. I suspect that these two institutions will strongly oppose being so close to a casino.

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