Local officials would welcome casino

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County officials say they would welcome one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed new gambling resorts into the county. But first they need hundreds of millions of private development dollars and the land to build on.

The state Legislature also must approve putting any casino plan to a public referendum.

Board of Supervisors Chairman William Waldron said Friday he would “absolutely” welcome a gambling resort for Fulton County.

“I believe I would,” the Johnstown 4th Ward supervisor said. “Right now, I think I would. It would bring in a mess of jobs. It would be great.”

County Planning Director James Mraz on Tuesday briefed the board’s Economic Development and Environment Committee on what it might take to bring such a resort to Fulton County. He said the state won’t be chipping in public money.

“The biggest issue is finding the investor,” county Planning Director James Mraz told the committee.

He said Cuomo’s proposal is to open gambling resorts in the Empire State. He said the governor wants especially to revitalize the upstate economy. Upstate was divided into six regions, and only one casino resort could possibly be approved within any one region. This area’s Albany Region includes Fulton and Montgomery and six other counties.

Mraz said Cuomo’s casino plan specifies revenues be distributed as follows: 80 percent to the state, 10 percent to the host community, and the other 10 percent divided among the counties in the region. The counties in Fulton County’s region would get an approximate 1.4 percent share each.

Gloversville 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael F. Gendron, chairman of the Economic Development and Environment Committee, said Friday a gaming resort is welcome in his county.

“Someone in that [Albany] region is going to have a casino,” Gendron said. “I would much rather have the 10 percent [share] rather than the 1.4 percent cut. I would rather we position Fulton County to get the 10 percent.”

Mraz estimated the amount of private capital investment needed to be lined up to bring a gaming resort to fruition is at least $250 to $500 million.

Gendron said that figure is “steep,” but he doesn’t underestimate Fulton County’s chances. He said the county has many “attributes,” such as Route 29 and its proximity to Saratoga County and the state Thruway. He also noted Fulton County is working on trying to transform the former Tryon Detention Facility in Perth into a business park.

Mraz said he wanted to brief supervisors on Cuomo’s gaming plan because the public is interested.

“We’ve received a number of phone calls and inquiries about whether we’re going to get a casino here,” he said.

Mraz said there are 17 casinos and “racinos” operating in the state – nine casinos operated by Native American tribes and eight “racinos,” which are slot-machine parlors associated with racetracks. He said the casinos range in size from four to 200 acres.

But he said only three gaming resorts will be approved by the state. Three of the six proposed regions have Indian gaming. Cuomo recently executed an agreement with the Oneida Nation for exclusive rights to the Central New York Region. He also executed an agreement with the Mohawk Nation for exclusive rights to the North Country Mohawk Region.

Now, Mraz said four regions are each eligible for one of the three gaming casinos Cuomo proposes. He said there has to be a gubernatorial decision by June 20 on regions approved to put on a ballot in November. He said the state won’t build the gaming resorts, but “issue them like a franchise.”

“The host county must find an investor,” Gendron told his committee.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.