In 1777 the British Army devised a plan to split the colonies and end the American War for Independence. They split New England from the rest of the colonies by taking control of Albany, New York and the Hudson River. The British efforts eventually ended at the Battle of Saratoga, but the Capital District is no less strategically located today. At the crossroads of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, the Capital District is the gateway to the Mohawk Valley and the Adirondacks.So, what better place could there be for a casino! This history lesson is brought to you by Saratoga Harness and Churchill Downs. It's the opening of the Executive Summary of their casino application; one of 17 such documents, one for each casino application, released on Tuesday by the New York Gaming Commission. I've read through just a few of them so far, but I think I get the idea. They discuss actual casino gambling a lot less than they do about wholesome family fun, how many jobs they'll create, their grand but tasteful architectural plans, and how they will single-handedly lift long-suffering communities out of poverty.
But they all have their different style and points of emphasis; and each one I've read so far has included at least one notable point of attention (assuring that I will indeed get around to reading all of them before too long). Caesar's, hoping to build in partnership with David Flaum in Woodbury, notes that it has developed a "new style of destination casino," facing outward instead of being inward and "walled off," and promises that Caesars New York will "make use of natural light and sweeping views of nearby Bear Mountain." They also note that their Las Vegas casino has attracted entertainment names the likes of Britney Spears and Celine Dion (and note that Caesars is not amongst the ten developers who have signed an agreement with the Fairgame theater group).
Executive Proposal for their proposed Sterling Forest resort in Tuxedo has, for some reason, large sections redacted - sure doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to articulating their marketing strategy! They note their proximity to NYC, where there are 11 million tourists annually, "including more than 540,000 Chinese." And, regarding the nearby Woodbury Commons retail outlet mall:
"40% of the sales revenue of Woodbury Commons comes from Asian tourists, who not only have a high propensity to shop but also enjoy full casino gaming. The Resort can easily develop marketing programs to encourage these visitors to the Resort, adding more exciting experiences to their visits."You can't make this stuff up, folks. Well, you can. But we don't have to. Perhaps, in their efforts to lure those "Chinese" who so enjoy casino gambling, Genting will include "a replica of the Great Wall, exhibits of terra-cotta warriors, and even live pandas" as they plan for their Resorts World Las Vegas.
In the Executive Summary for Jeff Gural's Tioga Downs racino, it is noted that "existing Video Lottery Terminals will be converted to traditional slot machines within 90 days." That would effectively terminate any payments to the harness racing side based on gaming revenue, and lock in their revenues at 2013 levels, plus or minus an adjustment for CPI, thus shutting them out of all the growth that is promised. And that is why the horsemen at Monticello are making their long and lonely stand. It's something that horsemen at Yonkers and NYRA are going to have to deal with at some point, be it in the seven years that we're told that the downstate racinos have to wait; or, more likely, soon after casino gambling comes to the Meadowlands.
Back to the Saratoga Harness/Churchill summary (for their proposed Capital View resort in East Greenbush) - while most of the applicants used the full four pages allowed by the Gaming Commission, Saratoga and Churchill wrapped it all up in a succinct two. They didn't even bother posturing about responsible gaming as the others did. Didn't waste any time talking about generous charitable giving to their local community, as opposed to Jeff Gural and the Wilmotte Group (Traditions Glen Resort in Tyre).
But what it lacks in length is made up for with the usual nonsense (as well as at least one typo and some sloppy writing). "Breathtaking views" of Albany, and "the easternmost of all the proposed casino sites" (Huh?). "Artfully designed to celebrate the familiar forms and images recalled by the Dutch heritage in which we are immersed, while revitalizing and reinterpreting those same images in an unexpectedly fresh and contemporary fashion that speaks to the optimism of our future." (Do you think they write this stuff with a straight face? ) "The Baseball Hall of Fame, the Olympic Center at Lake Placid, the thrill of climbing Mount Marcy, the Erie Canal, Howe Caverns, one could go on endlessly about the attractions available in the Capital Region of New York and it is our intention to shamelessly promote our home and our state." (Yeah. I'm so sure they will.)
And then there's this:
Some may argue that the Capital District is doing well, and by some standards it is. But one need look no further than the cities of Albany and Troy to see the heartbreaking poverty that a project such as our own can help to alleviate. The City of Albany with a population 97,856 has 25.4 percent of its citizens living below the poverty line. The City of Troy with a population 50,129 has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent and 25.9 percent of its citizens below the poverty line."Bleak numbers to be sure, heartbreaking indeed. What I also find to be heartbreaking is seeing the grim faces of the people sitting in a lonely trance at the slot machines at Aqueduct and the Saratoga harness track. That's the other side that you don't hear about in this sort of propaganda. It's heartbreaking to me that states like New York have come to depend so heavily on people gambling their money away in order to conduct their business, provide education and basic services to their population. The pictures we see of young affluent-looking people smiling and laughing as they enjoy a hot night out on the town are a lie.
Of course these casinos will create jobs (even given the loss of jobs elsewhere as residents divert their spending to gambling) and generate revenue for the host communities. It is with some mixed feelings that I've opposed their creation, given the utter desperation of the towns in the Catskills that have, for so, so long, seen them as a way out of decades of economic stagnation. But these facilities cater to the most vulnerable and addicted amongst us, and do so heartlessly, nearly 24 hours a day, despite the lip service paid towards responsible gaming, ha. The 1,000 permanent jobs that Capital View promises to create could only make a dent in the kind of widespread heartbreak that they describe; and a small one at that in neighboring cities such as Troy. Any general uplift of the region due to revenue that flows to the state is surely speculative. It seems like nothing more than crass exploitation to tout the misery of the unemployed and impoverished in order to gain an advantage in what amounts to a billion dollar corporate sweepstakes.