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Amsterdam city council backs casino plan

Updated: 06/18/2014 9:53 AM
Created: 06/17/2014 11:48 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy

AMSTERDAM - It wasn't unanimous but it was the next best thing for developers hoping to build a casino in the Mohawk Valley.

By a 4-to-1 vote count, the Amsterdam city council on Tuesday night gave those developers the legislative support they need to go forward with the plan.

Even though the future view on the horizon is still up in the air, the people of Montgomery County have now made it perfectly clear what they'd like to see on the Florida mountainside south of the city of Amsterdam -- a casino complex.

"It's been a long time since this community has had a any real investment," said Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane. "I think the state needs to look at that and understand that this is true transformation."

The transformation of an old mill town and its surrounding agricultural outskirts into a destination resort and casino got a huge boost on Tuesday night as the Amsterdam city council gave developers the legislative backing they need, one night after the town of Florida, in which most of the casino will sit, gave a similar blessing.

"It's not surprising here in Amsterdam that we got this kind of support," said Matt Ossenfort, the Montgomery county executive. "We're taking our message to the state now, now that we've gotten these two nights underneath our belt."

To help drive home the point that Montgomery County deserves a casino, and the 850 permanent jobs, the millions of dollars in recurring revenue, and the tax relief, developers plan on playing up the economic despair that has plagued the Mohawk Valley for decades.

"We are a very, very impoverished area," Thane asserted.

Part of the presentation by elected leaders and casino developers Tuesday night included a bullet point illustration of the less-than-stellar economic conditions in the region, including: 7% unemployment, one of the highest in New York State; 19.2% of Montgomery County residents living below the poverty line; 31% of children living in poverty, the highest in upstate New York; an average household income of $42,830, more than $14,000 below the state average: and other socio-economic factors that place Montgomery County 60th out of 62 New York counties in terms of distressed living conditions.

"We have a very compelling case here in Montgomery County and we're going to put the facts on the line," Ossenfort said.

The economic numbers in Montgomery and Fulton counties seem to fall in line with the criteria outlined by the state when it comes to choosing at least four upstate casino sites: 1) a destination resort that'll bring tourists upstate, 2) provide an economic impact to depressed areas, and, 3) provide tax relief.

"850 employees making great wages may now be able to realize their life's dream of home ownership right here in the city of Amsterdam," said Mark Kilmer, president of the Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce.

But Councilwoman Valerie Beekman wasn't convinced that a casino would be the answer to everyone's prayers. She cast the only NO vote.

"I guess because I felt all the poverty from Atlantic City and all the other places," Beekman said, "I don't want Amsterdam to have one side good and (the other not so good). We have to build the whole city."

Even with nearly unanimous backing, there may still be a problem with the exit 27 casino project. Developers say they need an extension beyond the June 30th deadline in which to get their ducks in a row, so to speak. They also need a reduction in the casino licensing fee from $50 million to $25 million. They say they'll make that request later this week.

When asked on Tuesday afternoon if they'd be receptive to that request, a New York Gaming Commission spokesman told News Channel 13, since they haven't received the request yet, they can't comment.

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