Game On: Groups Begin Debating Benefits and Risks of Bringing Casino Gambling to Lake George
By Anthony F. Hall
Friday, March 30, 2012
Casino gambling will not become legal in New York State for another two years, if then. Nevertheless, the prospect of casinos in Lake George is stirring new hopes among some residents, and fears in others.
“Casinos, if they come here or if they go to competing resorts, could determine the future of Lake George,” said Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais. “If it’s put to a vote, it’s going to be the biggest decision ever made in Warren County.”
In December, Blais and the Village’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to help fund a study of a casino’s likely impacts on Lake George.
“If we’re to determine the effects of gaming on infrastructure, taxes, employment and the quality of life, we need information. We have to get the ball rolling,” said Blais.
Blais said he would ask Warren County and the Town of Lake George to contribute to the costs of the analysis, which would be conducted by an independent consultant.
Bill Dow: Pros and Cons
Bill Dow, the president of the Lake George Steamboat Company, has been conducting some research on his own.
In October, Dow paid a visit to an old friend in Las Vegas, Michael Gaughan, the casino owner whom Dow came to know in the early 1990s, when Dow and his father were exploring the possibility of acquiring gaming licenses for their New Orleans steamboats.
Among other things, Dow concluded: “A gaming casino would be a powerful magnet. Gaming is very much a growth industry, even as America’s economy becomes discouraging to the rest of us. Were a casino to come to the Catskills and not the Adirondacks, then our tourist trade would further atrophy.”
Nevertheless, Dow said, a few things should be taken into account if gaming is to have a maximum economic impact.
“A casino may well seek to build a hotel in conjunction with their gaming facility. We would not want such, such should be prohibited. A casino will want its own food facilities. Again, such could be quite harmful to our local economy. Employment: an operator’s contract should specify at what level local people must be used, as well as calling for a training program to bring locals up the ladders. Tax rates: The county, the towns, the school districts, the environmental organizations all will attempt to be blessed by the casino’s tax flow. I do not think anybody below the state level would receive a meaningful money flow,” Dow stated.
Roaring Brook Ranch: Build it Here
While Dow believes a casino should be independent of a hotel if it is to have a significant economic impact, the owners of Roaring Brook Ranch say “our site is the best location for a casino and we hope our community agrees.”
“Even one casino would benefit the community,” said George Greene, one of the owners of Roaring Brook. “Gamers wouldn’t stay just at our resort; they would fill the neighboring resorts.”
Greene added, “We were approached by a consortium who wanted this property for a casino resort in 1996, the last time the state considered legalizing casinos. We had the acreage and the access to the interstate the investors needed, and it was in Lake George. In 1996, we projected that about 5,000 full time jobs would be created, in addition to the construction jobs.”
According to Greene, Lake George needs gambling if it is to survive as a resort area.
“We no longer have even the ten week season. It’s busy only on weekends. And it’s been years since anyone could afford to stay open in winter,” said Greene. “A casino would be very helpful to this area.”
Little: Pact May Preclude Casinos
However profitable gambling could be for Lake George, a 2004 agreement between New York State and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe may preclude Lake George casinos, says New York State Senator Betty Little.
“That law grants the St. Regis Mohawks the right to operate slot machines in exchange for a portion of the proceeds for the State,” said Little. ”The law prohibits the state from allowing others to operate slots in an eight county region, which includes Warren County.”
Little continued, “How would a constitutional amendment legalizing gambling address that? Would the State have to change the 2004 statute and what interest would there be in doing so?”
But, Little said, “The legislative leaders and governor have agreed to work toward an amendment. There is public support for doing so and given the state’s financial challenges, a strong desire to act.”
According to Dan Macentee, Little’s spokesman, the Senator would support Warren County’s efforts to bring gaming to the area, if, that is, Warren County wants casinos.
Gambling Has Support
Among the Warren County Supervisors voicing support for casino gambling is Ron Conover, the Supervisor from Bolton.
“I don’t have any objections in principle to gaming, so under the right scenario, I could support it,” said Conover. “ We need year round jobs, and gaming would help businesses extend their season. Casinos, as we know, generate more forms of recreation than just gaming. They support golf courses, entertainment and winter sports. We should be receptive to what the business community has to say.”
Speaking as a member of the business community, Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce – Visitors Convention Bureau president Kevin Rosa said, “If you build it, they’ll come.”
He added, “Every resort business from Hague to Lake George would benefit, if, of course, the gaming business is done right. We’d look for one that’s compatible with our environment, and allows us to remain a resort that reaches out to families.”
Environmental Groups Opposed
While there is, as yet, no organized opposition to casino gambling on Lake George, advocates for environmental protection said their organizations will probably oppose it and may work actively to prevent it from coming to Lake George.
“We were opposed to casino gambling in 1996 because we didn’t feel it reflected the values of the Adirondack Park,” said John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council. “We believed it would bring new pressures for development and undermine the quality of life. I have no reason to believe that our position today would be different.”
Peter Bauer, the executive director of the Fund for Lake George, said his organization “takes a dim view of legalized casino gambling anywhere in the Lake George watershed.”
Bauer continued, “The Fund is hard-pressed to see how gambling can have anything but a negative affect on the ecological health of Lake George and on tourism. Whatever identity Lake George has, it will change over-night if gambling is permitted.”
Bauer said his organization will seek partners in opposing casino gambling on Lake George.
“We’ll be reaching out to others. There are many groups who don’t want large-scale, casino gambling inside the Adirondack Park,” said Bauer.
To the Floor of the Legislature
A constitutional amendment legalizing casino gambling in New York State is expected to be introduced in both houses of the legislature this year. Once introduced, the amendment must be approved by two consecutively elected legislatures and by the voters before it becomes law.
According to Dan Macentee, Little’s spokesman, it is by no means clear what the amendment will allow: a limited number of casinos, distributed across the state or in a few specified areas; or the right of every county to decide if it wants casinos or not.
“It’s vague, at this point. What we do know is that part of the December discussion about revitalizing New York’s economy included an agreement by the Governor, the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the Assembly to move a constitutional amendment lifting the prohibition on casino gambling,” said Macentee.