Casino Design Disputed In Schenectady

Featured on: North East Public Radio

Story by: Lucas Willard

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Schenectady is preparing for the transformation of a former industrial area with the arrival a casino. During the planning stages, area residents are asking a lot of questions — from disputes over building designs to what’s being done to address problem gambling.

Residents weighed in on the design of Schenectady’s incoming Rivers Casino Wednesday night.

Developer Rush Street Gaming started receiving negative feedback after a rendering of the proposed casino was printed in the Daily Gazette. Some readers felt duped with the design change – the sleek modern lines used a year ago in the race to secure a casino license had been transformed into a more modest concept.

Project manager Mike Levin thought the new design would have fit in with Schenectady’s existing architecture.

“And I think based on the reaction from the community, again, the pendulum went from extremely modern down to historic, and we’re going to try to bring it back, the pendulum, somewhere. Balance the two.”

Levin said the designers would begin making changes right away.

“Design doesn’t just happen. So I’m hoping we can be back in 10 days, two weeks.”

Apart from the appearance of the building, residents have also complained about the 80-foot sign for the new casino, but designers have not been as flexible, calling it needed for visibility in its location set back from the adjacent roadway.

Developers must also work out a deal with the neighboring STS Steel Company, which leases a portion of the property that will be under development.

The casino is also making its case for how it would prevent gambling addiction. Critics have warned that the casino could be a drain on a city with already high poverty.

At a presentation at Schenectady County Community College earlier Wednesday, Rush Street’s Zalletta Wyatt said brochures would be distributed to players and that staff is trained to recognize problem gambling.

“We also put in place self restriction – the ability for players to sign up for self restriciton – as well as the ability for players to sign up for self restriction, as well as being able to self restrict on credit and things of those natures. And check cashing and set their own limits,” said Wyatt.

Jim Maney, Executive Director of the New York Council On Problem Gaming, says the public needs five things: public awareness, prevention, treatment, education, and research.

Maney said it takes cooperation between all involved to prevent gambling addiction.

“Not only from industry wise, not only from government-wise, but everything that is happening on the internet. The new technology. This is booming. Gambling is booming. It’s going to continue to boom in many, many ways.”

New York’s casino gambling law requires casinos to take steps to prevent problem gambling. Wyatt says for the casino it’s also about integrity.

“We don’t want to go down the wrong path.”

Community and faith-based organizations throughout New York are also on alert. Linda Bellick is with the Prevention Council for Saratoga County – an area already known for its horse tracks. Bellick said today’s kids are more exposed to gambling than any other generation.

“The problem is that we’ve just got to make sure, for us, kids are aware that there’s risks.”

Also Wednesday night, the city planning board gave site-plan approval for developer Galesi Group’s planned residential and commercial space at the casino site.