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Prospective casino operators attend mandatory question session

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Prospective casino operators got a chance to ask the Cuomo Administration questions about details of the process for choosing licensees for four upstate casinos.  They won’t get answers, though for several days.

The structure of the event was a bit awkward.  Gambling conglomerates, and other developers, who have all paid $1 million dollars each for the privilege of being considered for a casino site, attended a mandatory session held by Governor Cuomo’s Gaming Commission.

They were permitted to ask questions about details of the complex siting process. Empire Resort’s Nick Casiello asked whether the documents required for geological surveys of the proposed sites could be sent electronically instead.

But they received no immediate answers to even questions that seemed simple. The Gaming Commissioners, sitting on a dais, instead dutifully wrote down the questions without responding . Robert Williams, the acting executive director, says the commissioners need time to carefully consider their responses, and will post them on Friday. He says it was also a chance for the developers to be seen in a public venue, and to check out one another.

“It’s part of the transparence process,” William said.

The lucrative casino licenses have attracted 22 bidders. Most attended accompanied by their attorneys and lobbyists.  

Williams says the developers were instructed by the gaming commission not to make any comments that would promote their project or disparage the other prospective developers. And he says he’s “pleased” that everyone complied.

Rita Cox, of Saratoga Casino and Raceway, initially wanted to build a new casino in Saratoga. Her group has now proposed a site in East Greenbush, near Albany, as well as in the City of Newburgh in the Hudson Valley. She agrees that it was useful to hear the questions from the competition.

“I think it’s good to know that all the other applicants are looking at the same things we were,” Cox said. “We’re all looking forward to  additional clarity.”

One common concern expressed how will a required state environmental review, which can involve a lengthy public comment period, fit in with the process.

Most of the potential licensees were more reticent, including Rochester developer David Flaum, who is seeking permission to build a casino on Exit 23 of the Thruway at the southern tip of Albany, as well as a gambling center in Orange County near the popular Woodbury Commons shopping outlets, and one in Sullivan County, in the Catskills.  Flaum has also sought a deal with the Seneca Indian Nation to build a casino near Rochester, in the town of Henrietta, a project that is not part of the current selection process. Flaum, like many of the participants, did not have any questions to ask.

“I’m just here to listen,” Flaum said. “I’m in listening mode.”

Ultimately, the Gaming Commission will choose four casinos later this year in the Capital Region, the Hudson Valley Catskills Region, and the Southern Tier- Finger Lakes area.