Should Essex County push for a casino?

One Essex County lawmaker thinks North Country officials need to start a conversation about whether a casino is a good fit for this region.

At a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava floated the idea of bringing a casino to Essex County.

“What are we going to do about a casino?” Scozzafava asked. “I see surrounding counties are asking the governor, the Legislature, to consider them for a site.”

In his State of the State address last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he believes the upstate tourism economy can be bolstered by adding more destination resorts and expanding casino gaming.

No Essex County supervisors proposed bringing a casino to their own towns at the board meeting earlier this month, but they were more than happy to suggest locating a casino in their colleagues’ communities.

“I think Lake Placid would be perfect,” Scozzafava said.

“I think Moriah would be perfect,” North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi responded.

Scozzafava also ribbed Ticonderoga town Supervisor Deb Melaney about locating a casino in the former Lowe’s store, which closed in 2011.

Chesterfield town Supervisor Gerald Morrow said the former Frontier Town theme park in the town of North Hudson, which is visible from Interstate 87, would be a good location for a casino.

Last year, the Legislature passed a measure to amend the state’s Constitution to allow for up to seven casinos in New York. If the Senate and Assembly pass the legislation again this year, it then goes to the public for a vote. Cuomo said he plans to propose a “Phase One casino gaming plan” this year to go along with the constitutional amendment. The plan would locate up to three casinos in upstate New York. No new casinos would be located in New York City because Cuomo wants to encourage downstate residents to visit upstate areas.

Under Cuomo’s plan, the state Gaming Commission would be responsible for selecting the locations, which would require support from local communities and governments. Cuomo said 90 percent of the revenue would go toward education funding, and the remaining 10 percent is supposed to go to property tax relief.

Cuomo said more than $1 billion in additional economic activity could be generated by opening up more casinos.

“We at least need to have some discussion on it and see what we want to do as a county,” Scozzafava said earlier this month. “We do have some sites.”

So would a casino mesh with Essex County’s current tourism model? Jim McKenna, president of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, said he hasn’t given much thought to Cuomo’s casino proposal, but he noted that tourism in the Adirondacks is generally geared toward outdoor recreation.

“There’s certainly parts of the Adirondacks that it might fit,” McKenna said. “Our market niche, right now, is about outdoor recreation.”

Parts of the North Country fall under an exclusivity compact with casinos operated on Native American land in Franklin and Clinton counties. That means that a casino couldn’t be opened in these areas unless that compact is broken.

“The governor said he would not put a casino any place where an Indian tribe was in good standing and was paying the state their share of the slot machine revenues,” state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, told the Enterprise.

Little said that compact may have been broken in recent years due to a dispute between the Mohawk Tribal Council and the state regarding illegal slot machines on Ganienkeh territory in Clinton County.

“(The tribal council) claim that the 92 slot machines or whatever that the Ganienkehs have on their (state Department of Environmental Conservation) land in Clinton County has broken the exclusivity, and the state has done nothing about it,” she said.

“As far as casinos go, I think they do attract and they can be a benefit to tourism, but they do have some negative effects to them as well,” Little added. “And I also think that there is a saturation point at some point, where it’s, ‘How many casinos is too many casinos?'”

Little said she’s open to the idea of locating a casino in Clinton, Warren or Essex counties.

Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said the decision should be left to local communities and governments.

“I’m a believer in home rule,” he said.