Rensselaer's pro-casino mayor Dan Dwyer says, in effect: 'Hey, man. Don't be taking it out on us just because the Hard Rock casino proposal would be funded by a subsidiary of a company which made an investment which ended up being paid as a "loan" to Zimbabwe's despotic leader Robert Mugabe which enabled him to buy minivans and pickups and weapons used to kill and brutalize opponents which eventually prompted his electoral opponent who had beaten him in the first round of elections to withdraw which allowed Mugabe to remain in power, all so that the company could get a piece of the action from a rich platinum reserve that Mugabe had seized from a private company shortly beforehand."
Or something like that. This is the article in Bloomberg Businessweek that led to the questions about Och-Ziff Real Estate, the funding component of the Hard Rock/David Flaum/Capital OTB partnership that is hoping to build a casino near the Amtrak station just outside of Albany, that were raised in James Odato's article in the Albany Times-Union on Monday.
Lee Park, a spokesman for the commission, would not say specifically if the reports about [parent company, the hedge fund] Och-Ziff could impact its chances of getting licensed. "As required by the Request for Applications and the Multi-Jurisdictional Personal History Disclosure form, each applicant provided comprehensive background material," Park said. "The Gaming Facility Location Board and the Gaming Commission are reviewing this material and factoring it into their decision-making process."I remember following the events surrounding that 2008 election in Zimbabwe with disgust and shock at the brazen nature of the violence. Re-reading about it now in the Business Week piece, I find it no less disturbing.....but can't help but note how the scale of depraved inhumanity in the world has grown exponentially since that time; and indeed, seemingly just in the last few months. Man. As far as what this has to do with a casino in upstate New York.....sure, the people involved in the Och-Ziff subsidiary providing the funding had nothing to do with investment decisions made six years ago by an American expat living in London. Och-Ziff Real Estate has funded casinos that have been licensed in other states. And the SEC investigation into just if or when the parent Och-Ziff knew that its investment in a third-party corporation would end up in the hands of a tyrant who kills his own people (as if that is particularly shocking nowadays) is still ongoing. So perhaps Mayor Dwyer is correct in telling the Gaming Commission that they should ignore the matter. (Though he should definitely avoid comparing the matter to Joe Bruno's acquittal on corruption charges. That really falls flat.)
On the other hand, these allegations against Och-Ziff are not new. Here's an article from 2012 that discusses how the money ended up with Mugabe. So perhaps it's perfectly fair to judge Hard Rock quite harshly for doing a poor job of due diligence and/or not considering and/or ignoring the likely appearance issues that Och-Ziff Real Estate's mere association, however distant it may be, with a company that was apparently so cold with, and dismissive of the potential consequences of, its pursuit of profit. After all, the general quality of a bidder's judgment is surely fair game in this process.
Of course, in a similar vein, the Gaming Commission is looking for the most money for the state. And, in the Times Union piece, Odato also reports that Hard Rock's revenue estimates are "well above" those from the competing Capitol District proposals in East Greenbush, Schenectady, and Schoharie County. So, could be that the commission will conveniently overlook the allegations.