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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cuomo Seeks A Do-Over

When the Gaming Facility Location Board announced their three casino license recommendations a couple of weeks ago, we acknowledged that the process appeared to have been independent of outside influence - particularly that from the office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo - and admitted that we were wrong to predict and insist that that would not be the case.

But now, instead of interfering with the board's deliberations and decisions behind closed doors while the process was ongoing, the governor is doing so right out in the open, asking it to reconvene and reconsider its refusal to issue a license to the Southern Tier....the "true" Southern Tier, that is. 

"The Binghamton area is tied for the region with the highest unemployment rate in upstate New York, and stands to benefit greatly from new jobs and economic development in the region," the letter states. Cuomo wrote that he wants the siting board to consider issuing a new request for application "to seek a qualified applicant to submit a new bid" for the fourth license in the "true Southern Tier." [Albany Times Union]
  The governor is trying to get a do-over.  You know.  A do-over.  You remember.  When the whiny and entitled kid in the street or playground pick-up game would demand that a play that didn't go his/her way be re-played.  "I wasn't ready!"  "I called time out!"  "The ball hit the wire!"  "A car was coming!"  "Sally farted in my face!"

In this case, the lead crybaby was Jeff Gural...though, to be fair, he was leading a chorus of complaints from not only those in the Southern Tier who felt they were bypassed unfairly and unwisely, but from those who questioned the decision from around the state as well.  And we don't at all disagree with those cries.  The decision to award the Southern Tier region license to a location well north of it - one which is already filled with gambling options; and in a little rural town where opposition to a casino is adamant  - was a baffling one, no doubt.

But the problem is this: Cuomo's letter to the board comes not long after Gural, acting like the entitled crybaby that some consider him to be, ranted and raved entitled crybaby. 
  ""Um, I was asked to help get the law passed. I spent about $800,000 of my own money to get Proposition One passed, only to get put out of business. I mean, I, I think it’s a joke to be honest with you."
"And what really pisses me off is the governor asked me to spend $800,000 of my money to pass Local Law 1, Proposition One? What was that all about? I mean—why would—the whole thing is sickening to be honest with you." [Capital New York]
So, for the governor to react shortly thereafter by appealing to the board - which is made up of a co-chairman of his first gubernatorial campaign, another former campaign aide who he later appointed to chair a state agency, two gentlemen who he appointed to their current co-chairmanships of a regional economic development council, and another whose wife, a current Westchester District Attorney, he once appointed to head a prominent ethics committee - to let the crybaby get his way, seems rather inappropriate.  Though hardly atypical or surprising.  Sure, Cuomo's letter couches his intentions in an effort to "excite national competition by interested parties that submit even better applications than the first round." But nobody really believes that any parties other than Gural and Tioga Downs would be interested in a region in which no outside companies were interested even before Atlantic City casinos started going broke, making it increasingly apparent that the northeast is over-saturated with gambling facilities.  Nor that this is anything other than a direct effort to set things right with a person who actively supported one of his key initiatives with his mouth and his money.

The governor, having sat out the casino selection process, contrary to every bone in his body and perhaps due to federal investigations into the Moreland Commission which we have good reason to believe are underway, can no longer help himself.  If the board's recommendations served to quash your belief that there were no stated or implied understandings whatsoever when the NYGA agreed at the last minute to not oppose the casino referendum, these developments should serve to make you think again, as I have.  And, again, none of this is to mean that, strictly on the facts on the ground, Cuomo is wrong to ask the board to reconsider what would indeed appear to be a questionable omission.  It's just that the way it has come about, and considering these persons involved, as well as the history of inside dealing behind closed doors that Albany, and this administration in particular, is notorious for, makes it all seem quite unseemly.  To put it one way.  Though equally quite typical. 

 - The Head Chef and I are currently down in Florida; and, as we are marking a special celebration as the calendar turns to 2015, we will be headed towards climes even further south of here on New Year's Day for an extended vacation.  So, I'm thinking that you likely won't be hearing from me for a bit!  A Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year to all, and thanks, as always, for your readership and support.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Expected Reactions in an Unexpected Place

The language in the reactions we heard last week regarding the selection of the Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre was the kind that we thought we might be hearing from aggrieved casino supporters in the Catskills had licenses been issued to Orange County applicants instead.

"Something's wrong," Broome County Executive Debbie Preston said. "It's a slap in the face to the people of Broome County and the people of the Southern Tier." [PressConnects]
State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, called the news "a punch in the gut to the Southern Tier." []
"To not pick a Southern Tier location — Seneca County, in all due respect, is not in the Southern Tier," [Sen. Tom] Libous said. "I'm extremely upset. I'm very, very disappointed." [PressConnects]
A day after the casino vote last year, Cuomo showed up in Binghamton and applauded the addition of new licenses as he stood in front of a podium with a sign that read: "Funding for Schools ... Jobs for the Southern Tier." [PressConnects Editorial]
Well, no casino jobs for the Southern Tier; at least what those living in that part of the state would consider to be the Southern Tier.  As in....the actual southern tier.  The above-referred-to editorial continues:
As Cuomo said at the time: "We're losing over a billion dollars to the neighboring casinos — New Jersey has casinos, Pennsylvania has casinos, Connecticut has casinos." 
Cuomo was right.

If a Binghamton resident decides to go to a full-service casino, that gambler likely drives 76 miles south in Pennsylvania to the Mohegan Sun casino in Wilkes-Barre. After all, Turning Stone Resort and Casino is 87 miles north. Others in New York are even farther away.
Of course, not everybody up in the Finger Lakes region is thrilled about the decision either....especially those in Tyre who have been trying to block the construction of a casino there.  The CasinoFreeTyre group, unsuccessful thus far with their legal actions, will try again; this time, asserting that the developers' plans grew larger between the time that they were, controversially, approved by the Town Board, and the time that they were formally submitted to the Gaming Commission. That may sound like a technicality.....but recall that a judge ruled in the previous lawsuit that the town was not required to post the SEQRA forms on their website because it didn't have a high speed connection.  So maybe technicality is a language the court will better understand than it did common sense.

And the horsemen at the Finger Lakes warned that a casino in Tyre could put the track out of business.  
 If actions are not taken by state officials to protect purse account levels and avoid a drop in state tax rates paid by the state, Brown said "racing at Finger Lakes will be gone in two to three years." He said 90% of his 500 members could not stay in business if purse levels drop below the $20 million or so mark they've been running in recent years. [Bloodhorse]
Kevin Law, the chairperson of the Location Board, told reporters that the decision was between Lago and nothing....prompting Jeff Gural to call that the stupidest statement I've ever heard anybody make in my whole life. And, in that interview, Gural again demonstrated the sense of entitlement that he had about this process.
"I finished the garage. I spent a quarter of a million dollars on Winterfest, thinking I would get the license. And I got screwed." [PressConnects]
In an absolutely delicious bit of irony, Gural is conducting a joint press conference on Tuesday morning along with Traditions at the Glen, the other unsuccessful applicant in the so-called Southern Tier region.  There - and I am writing this before the press conference whereas you are likely reading this afterwards - he and Traditions are reportedly set to announce a joint effort to win the 4th casino license which was expected to be awarded in the Catskills/Hudson Valley region, but which was withheld by the Board. You may recall that Gural had previously scoffed at the notion of a cooperative effort with his competitor when it had been raised by Traditions CEO Bill Walsh a few months ago.  
"We don't see any kind of partnership down the road at all with Traditions, and I think that our chances of getting the license are pretty excellent," said Gural.
"Truthfully, I think if (Traditions owner Bill Walsh) won the bid, he would go broke," said Gural. "I told him that. I don't think that there are enough customers for both of us." [WBNG]
Well, as Gural most colorfully informed us last week, he's wealthy and is in no danger of going broke himself.  Unexpected developments often bring unexpected bedfellows.  And I guess Gural has changed his mind about there not being enough customers to go around.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Location Board Gets Two out of Three (Not Four) Almost Right

The Gaming Facility Location Board has spoken, and no, their decision did not favor the politically connected bidders as I'd anticipated would be the case.  If there was a backroom deal with members of the New York Gaming Association in the weeks preceding the referendum vote in November, 2013, it was obviously scrapped and left on the editing room floor.  Jeff Gural, the owner of Tioga Downs, and James Featherstonhaugh of Saratoga Raceway and Casino are both left without their coveted casino licenses. Instead of sticking to the script of intervention, influence, and interference which is well worn in Albany, particularly with the sitting governor of New York, the board did their job earnestly and independently, so it seems.  I'm happy to admit that I was wrong, though I will offer no apologies for the nature of my suspicions.

That said, I don't think that the location board got this all right.  And they surely showed zero sense of drama!  They led off with the most anticipated aspect of their decision, revealing right off the bat that there would be only three license recommendations, with none of them awarded to an Orange County bidder.  Which, as you may recall, wasn't really the idea in the first place.  Not sure what the point of that entire Orange County exercise was, other than to cause a lot of angst and a lot of wasted time, effort, and money on the part of those who mounted bids for a facility there (including money that was directed to well-connected lobbyists and to politicians' campaign funds).

It also appeared as if the board didn't succeed in keeping their decision entirely to themselves.  Trading in the stock of Empire Resorts, set now, pending final licensing by the Gaming Commission, to be the operator of the Montreign casino at the old Concord resort in Thompson, NY in Sullivan County, was frenetic in the days leading up to the decision.  The stock (NYNY, and I still don't understand how they got that symbol!), flirting around 6 1/2 on Dec 12, rallied to 8 on Tuesday on heavy volume.  (It soared to 9 after the announcement before selling, and perhaps some buyers' remorse, took hold and drove it down to 7.13 by the end of Wednesday's trading session.)   And I was surprised on Wednesday morning to see that I was now being followed on Twitter by Galesi Group, who teamed with Rush Street Gaming on the winning bid for the Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady.  Perhaps that didn't mean anything, and I don't mean to be presumptuous enough to think that anyone there or anywhere really cares about what I write or think; but I wouldn't think that the folks at Galesi would be curious to see what anyone had to say on Twitter if they didn't think they were going to be selected.

The third license, awarded to Wilmorite for their Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre, is where I think this board really went off the track, ethically and logistically.  We'll get to that in a moment.

The recommendation for Montreign is surely no surprise, even to those who weren't trading NYNY stock, given its location in the Catskills, an area which has been practically begging for casino gambling for decades.  It's a lavish proposal with all of those amenities which we're told will attract gamblers to travel to upstate NY from NYC and beyond; an unproven concept which has no precedent here.  Just go their homepage, roll over the letters as instructed to see all of the nonsense intended to dazzle and distract from the facility's true purpose - to get people onto the gaming floor and keep them there as long as possible.

I have some mixed feelings about their selection.  Of all of the regions that were considered, the Catskills is surely the one which warranted a casino given its history as a faded resort area, the enthusiastic support there, and the long effort to bring this to fruition.  So, even as someone who opposes the whole idea of expanding gaming in the state, it's hard to argue with this location.  And it's great news for the horsemen at Monticello, who recently concluded a deal with management which depended on Empire getting the casino.  It guarantees the existence of the racetrack for the next nine years, and grants the horsemen, in lieu of a share of casino revenues, equity in the company (which they may wish they had when the stock was at 9 yesterday).

On the other hand, Mohegan Sun's proposal for a casino on an adjacent slice of the Concord property seemed slightly less cynical and insincere than most of the others in the state; and may have provided more wide-ranging benefits in the region.  The company's CEO, Mitchell Grossinger Etess, has family roots in the area, and may really have cared about revitalizing it instead of just paying lip service to the idea in order to line his own pockets.  His proposal would have included a revival of Grossinger's (which the Etess family used to operate), as well as commercial development in the city of Monticello.  (Etess said afterwards that he is "happy for Sullivan and wish Montreign the best of luck.”)  In its explanation of its decision, the board did not specify any negatives about the Mohegan Sun proposal (as opposed to the Nevele, which it noted had not completed its financing); only that Montreign is "a more comprehensive and well-measured proposal."

Schenectady was also no surprise; indeed, the rumors that it was the leading candidate had been swirling for weeks.  It fits the bill in that it's a city that has struggled financially (though already in the process of a revitalization); and the location, along the riverfront on a long-abandoned industrial site, seems a logical one; it doesn't sit squarely in a residential area like others will or would have.  However, the sentiment was hardly unanimous in favor of the casino; there was opposition to the proposal there.  Didn't cover it much here, and, in fact, when I did, I got yelled at by someone from the group for belittling the notion that the casino would prey on students at Union College (from which I graduated a really long time ago).  Indeed, the school again expressed concerns after the decision.

Personally, while acknowledging the proximity of the campus to where the facility will be and the potential to lure students, I still think that the casino presents more profound problems than preying on students whose parents are spending $60,000 a year to send them there; I'd be more concerned about the community college myself.  The Stop the Schenectady Casino group, seeming resigned to the decision on its website, outlined some of those concerns, particularly those of problem gaming, and the need to "protect the Historic Stockade neighborhood from an increase in traffic that will almost surely reduce the quality of  life in the neighborhood, and threaten the integrity of its historic structures."  (Preserving that neighborhood was the original goal of this group before they pivoted to the casino.)

That brings us to Tyre.  Along with East Greenbush, where Saratoga harness' proposal, led in part in a most arrogant posture by Morgan Hook of the lobbying firm SKDKnickerbocker, was most rightfully denied in the face of the fierce opposition there (though the board would only acknowledge that "the level of public support....was significantly less" than the other proposals), Tyre was where I heard the most from residents terrified at the prospect of a casino destroying the nature of their residential area.  I feel terrible for the people there who will be affected.  Imagine living your life in a quiet area, minding your own business, and some millionaire dude comes along to plop a 24 hour casino right next door.  I wrote extensively about Tyre in this post, and here I'll once again post the Google Maps satellite views - one closer and one wider - of the rural area where this casino would be built.

The red sign post is where the Dawley family lives, and, should this casino indeed be built, their lives and those of their neighbors will surely never be the same.  The residents have mounted court challenges which have thus far been entirely futile.  They've targeted the environmental review process (SEQRA) which, as we detailed here, is designed to be manipulated by the "lead agency" - in this case, the town itself - to fit its agenda.  The Town Board members simply declared that the casino would have no significant environmental impact on community character, and - poof - it became so. One need only to look at the above photos to realize that that assertion is nonsensical and self-serving.  So, we hope that the community will endeavor to carry on their legal challenge.  It seems unconscionable that the location board would allow a casino to be constructed there.

And that's besides the fact that this award to the Southern Tier region is not actually in the southern tier of the state, as we discussed here.  Despite the fact that Governor Cuomo again reiterated yesterday that these casinos will act as a "magnet" to lure New York City residents to Upstate destinations, I can virtually assure you that no one - and I mean nobody - from the city is going to be traveling up to Tyre to gamble, I don't care how many scenic lakes there may be.  (And in fact, I highly doubt they would have traveled to one at Tioga Downs either....and it surely remains to be seen if they do so to the Catskills or Schenectady).  It's been estimated that as much as 80% of the business in Tyre will simply be gamblers relocated from Turning Stone or Vernon Downs or the Finger Lakes; and though that's a self-serving estimate by Turning Stone, it makes far more sense to me than the idea of a family trip from Manhattan.

As you might imagine, Tioga Downs' owner Jeff Gural is not very happy about this.
“I’m totally shocked. I really am. I didn’t think that, first of all, I didn't think that they belonged in the competition, they’re not in the Southern Tier..

“The governor came to Binghamton and announced this and promised the people of the Southern Tier a casino....Um, I was asked to help get the law passed. I spent about $800,000 of my own money to get Proposition One passed, only to get put out of business. I mean, I, I think it’s a joke to be honest with you." [Capital New York]
 Note here that the amount that Gural spent to get the referendum passed has suddenly gone up from $600,000!  And here we see the sense the entitlement that Gural, and surely also Feathers, had about this.  And he went on, and on, and on....
 “It will hurt me at Vernon. But, I don't give a shit about me, I’m wealthy."
"It’ll hurt me at Vernon eventually. I wouldn't be surprised if Finger Lakes closes. This is a devastating impact on the racinos in the state that have provided millions of dollars to the state and our thanks is this idiotic decision? It’s a disgrace. No fracking and no casinos? Why don’t you just tell them they should all move someplace else?”
“I mean I was concerned, to be honest, that they had a committee of people who knew nothing about the industry, and that’s what you get, you know? I think they’re well-intentioned, but how, they certainly screwed Turning Stone and they put Finger Lakes out of business. They probably put Vernon Down out of business. So basically, they put two casinos out of business and screwed the third one.”
"And what really pisses me off is the governor asked me to spend $800,000 of my money to pass Local Law 1, Proposition One? What was that all about? I mean—why would—the whole thing is sickening to be honest with you."
 The reference to fracking is with respect to Cuomo's announcement that he will ban the practice in the state; curious that he would make that long-anticipated decision on the same day as this one!  Not sure which one he was trying to distract attention from!  (Of course, I'm sure there are some, if not many, in the Southern Tier who believe that yesterday's developments saved them from the ill effects of gambling, air pollution, and contamination of the water supply.)  In making the fracking announcement, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the acting state health commissioner, noted that his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place? [NY Times]  That's obviously not the approach that the location board took in deciding to site a casino in the residential town of Tyre.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Show (and Tell) Time for Location Board

It's a busy time of year, so sorry again for the sparse posting of late, as the announcement of the Location Board's recommendations in the casino sweepstakes fast approaches.

However, the action will really just be getting started once Kevin Law tells us who the winners and losers are (and it's subject to one's interpretation as to whether the winners are the winners or the losers) some time shortly after 2 PM on Wednesday.  The reactions from the developers and the communities will surely span the full gamut of emotions ranging from euphoria to rage, and either, or both, will likely be heard and felt from winners and losers alike.  Some will appeal directly to Governor Cuomo, questioning how the results comport with the spirit of the casino law. Some of the bitterness could spill into the legal arena.

Then the Gaming Commission will begin their process of assessing each of the recommended candidate's licensability, with the help of the State Police.  As I've pointed out, recent history suggests that the ultimate result could differ from what these gentlemen come up with on Wednesday; I'd rate the chances at around 25% that that turns out to be the case.  That phase will be another chance for the meddling governor to meddle.  This location board is one thing.  Despite the fact that it's comprised entirely of men with past ties to the governor - some more so than others - they seem to be earnest about their task, and we can only hope that the two members, at least, who I'd surmise are certainly on Cuomo's contacts list haven't been getting gubernatorial texts in the middle of the night.  But the Gaming Commission is Cuomo's commission. If, for some reason, he has a strong opinion against any of these development teams, it's hard to believe that this commission will proceed contrary to his wishes.

Regardless of whether or not that's the case, you can be sure that not all of the losing developers are just going to slink away.  One can expect a plentiful helping of mud to be slung towards those winning teams in whom the others may sense some vulnerabilities with respect to their licensability.

And, of course, once everything is worked out, we shall see just how fast they get built, how many good jobs they really create, how much business they bring to (or suck from) surrounding communities, how their results stack up against their projections, how many local customers declare bankruptcy or lose their homes.

But it will all start on Wednesday.  The Public Notification issued by Gaming Commission would qualify, I believe, as being cryptic:


1.            Call to Order

2.            Consideration of Meeting Minutes for December 9, 2014

3.            Consideration of Recommendations of Gaming Facility Applicants for Gaming Commission Licensure

4.        Adjourn

So, let the licensure-ing begin!  You'll be able to watch the proceedings live via the Gaming Commission homepage; I'm sure they'll be a direct link right here somewhere come game time if it's still not there now.  And of course, Twitter will be the place to be for those of us who just have to experience the world in real time.  Unfortunately, I expect to be otherwise occupied, and I'm fine with finding out an hour later (though not much more than that!).  But I'm sure that you can get live updates here, amongst many other places.

I guess I should try to squeeze in some picks, which I will endeavor to do at some point on Tuesday.  But seriously, other than my original suspicions towards those who I consider to be politically favored, I have no idea at this point. And I don't think anyone else really does either. "There are a million rumors running around, but nobody knows anything."  So said Thomas Wilmot, hoping to build the Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre (one of the scenarios which would definitely spur a flurry of legal action). We've heard the rumor about Schenectady having an inside track; this above-linked-to article on refers to the belief that the Catskills will get two licenses after and despite all the angst over Orange County.  That's what everyone assumed would be the case when this started.

I don't know where any such rumors would be coming from though.  I wonder, as I write this as midnight approaches on Monday, whether the location board itself knows definitively what they're going to announce.

 - In the meantime, VLT's are coming to Long Island, likely before any of these casinos are up and running (with the possible exception of Tioga Downs, where Gural says he can have casino table games up in six months). As you may recall, Governor Cuomo inserted a provision that provided for VLT parlors whether the casino referendum passed or not.  Since it did, we get both, oh goodie!  Both Nassau and Suffolk OTB have plans for 1,000 machine facilities; "slots in a box" as the Times article refers to them.  One thing to be said about that: it at least dispenses the hypocrisy about some of the window dressing that we've seen in the casino proposals.  No idyllic gardens or ponds here; just a bunch of machines catering to mindless the tune of some $150 million in net profits a year expected at the Nassau facility.

One thing's for sure: whatever Cuomo's motivation was for supporting these smaller VLT parlors - a bone for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a hedge against the referendum being defeated, or simply a further effort to bleed more out of the gambling stone - one can be sure that he wasn't thinking about the fortunes of the racing industry.  While Yonkers could lose a very small piece of its action (GM Bob Galterio did note during his FIOS interview that they've managed to maintain a number of customers from Long Island even after Resorts World opened), one would think that the Big A racino would surely stand to lose out the most.  And for NYRA, it's a potential double whammy: Any reduction in Resorts World action would negatively effect payments for purses and infrastructure.....while the new slots parlors will be new competition for Long Island OTB dollars that presently go to racing.  [UPDATE: Reader Dan points out that the NYRA horsemen will get a portion of this slots revenue.  Mr. Hegarty reported last year that it's 2.75% to horsemen and .5% to breeders.)

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Is Schenectady Casino in the Bag?

Hi.  Hope everyone had a great holiday!

As I'm sure you know by now, the next meeting of the location board, scheduled for December 17, is expected to produce the announcement of its recommendations as to who to license for up to four casinos in the state.  And let's emphasize again that these will be exactly that: recommendations to the Gaming Commission, which will ultimately decide whether or not to issue the licenses accordingly.  It's not an insignificant point, considering that the last two big decision processes of this sort that we've covered here over ten years of being Left at the Gate ended with a twist:  Governor Paterson himself selected AEG to get the Big A racino, but it ended up with Genting; and, an Ad Hoc Committee selected Excelsior Racing to get the racing franchise in 2006, but Governor Spitzer ultimately went back to NYRA (a longer and more complex story to be sure).

In a concerted push for the Hard Rock proposal in Rensselaer, just outside of Albany at the Amtrak station, mayor Dan Dwyer and some 30 other elected officials gathered at the site on Wednesday to announce their support.

What impact the announcements will have on the selection process is unknown, said McDonald, of Cohoes, and a fellow Democrat, state Sen. Neil Breslin of Bethlehem.

With time running out, the group deemed it worth making the public effort within sight of the state Capitol. They brought in for support Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy of Albany and three retired state lawmakers: Republicans Roy J. McDonald, who represented Saratoga in the state Senate, and Bob Reilly of Colonie, who served in the Assembly, and Democrat Jack McEneny, who was an Albany assemblyman. [Albany Times Union
Additionally, Mayor Dwyer announced the completion of the previously-contemplated deal with Albany to pay the city $1.1 million annually from gaming revenue, and commit to job opportunities for residents.  Dwyer had previously insisted on exclusivity, which was thwarted when Albany Mayor Sheehan reached a similar, yet different, agreement with the Capital View project in East Greenbush.
Rensselaer's payments will come for the city's annual $5 million to $5.7 million host community payment, while the payment for East Greenbush would be made by the casino developer. The money from Rensselaer would go to the city's general fund. The East Greenbush developer would pay Capitalize Albany, the city's economic development wing. 
This above-linked-to Times Union piece serves to support those loud whispers we've been hearing that Schenectady has the inside track on this thing, and portrays this as a last ditch effort to persuade the Gaming Commission that Hard Rock is the best option.  Columnist Chris Churchill, writing for the same paper, goes further, writing that the notion that this is in the bag for Schenectady is "widespread amont insiders."
That suggests the deal between Albany and Rensselaer, officially announced Wednesday, could be a Hail Mary by a casino team that's desperate and realizing it's not going to win.

Or maybe, just maybe, the deal is a response to a whispered message from someone in state government that sounded something like this: "Listen, we want to give this to you. But you need to bolster your local support before we can."

As troubling as it would be for the integrity of the gaming commission's process, the second scenario seems as likely as the first. And that would mean Schenectady doesn't have the casino competition wrapped up after all. 
To me, the developers of the proposed Rivers Casino and Resort, on the shores of the Mohawk River in Schenectady, bring precisely the kind of concerns that has the potential, however slight one may believe it to be, to cause the kind of licensing issues that could lead to the type of twist we mentioned above.  Rush Street has received negative publicity over its involvement in the development of casino-type games aimed at kids; and has been the subject of intense criticism by the UNITE Here union over its labor practices. And Och-Ziff Capital Management, who would solely provide the funding, is a subsidiary of a company being investigated by the SEC for investments said to prop up the brutal reign of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe.  [Ooops, they are actually the Hard Rock funding arm, sorry for the mixup.]

Churchill also criticizes Och-Ziff Capital for not being willing to make the payments to Albany itself, as Capital View is proposing for East Greenbush, rather than have it taken out of casino revenues that may otherwise flow to the city of Rensselaer.
Och-Ziff isn't even donating to the other newly announced sweetener of the proverbial pot: a pledge of $500,000 to build a dock for the Half Moon, the financially troubled replica ship. That money would come from the city of Rensselaer, along with casino partners Flaum Management and Capital District OTB.