By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
---- — RICHMONDVILLE — The Schoharie County Board of Supervisors heard strong public sentiment Tuesday night in favor of bringing a Las Vegas-style casino to the county, though some residents gave the proposal a chilly reception.
A public forum on the issue drew a crowd of nearly 100 people to Cobleskill-Richmondville High School. A majority of those who addressed the county board identified themselves as enthusiastic supporters of the proposal, which is competing with projects that have emerged in Albany, Montgomery and Saratoga counties.
Those who spoke in favor of the proposed casino were preaching to the choir. The county board voted 13-3 last month to back having a casino sited in the county, but didn’t endorse any specific location.
So far, the only casino proposal to have emerged in the county has been advanced by the Howe Caves Development LLC, operator of the Howe Caverns tourist attraction located on a 330-acre site just off Interstate 88.
Chris Tague, a spokesman for the company, said he was pleased with the public reception to the proposal.
“Tonight we heard overwhelming support for having a casino in Schoharie County,” he said. “This is about putting Schoharie County on the map and to let everyone know that Schoharie County is open for business.”
Many of those speaking in favor of the proposal noted that the county’s economy is still reeling from the devastation caused by the flood of August 2011. Jobs are scarce, sales tax revenue has drooped and it is rare for new businesses to open here, they said.
“Schoharie County really needs something,” said Catherine Ploss of Richmondville. “We have nothing right now.”
Susan McGiver, a businesswoman from the town of Schoharie, agreed, noting she enjoys visiting casinos and arguing that to site one in the county would spur growth locally.
“I’m a little tired of hearing about all the scummy people who go to casinos because you’re looking at one right now,” McGiver said. “This will bring jobs. It will raise the economy for the entire county. We don’t have enough businesses in this county.”
But Matthew Lamia of Richmondville, who identified himself as a retired addiction counselor, said a casino would invite new problems in a county already struggling with inadequate resources to deal with a growing drug addiction problem. Lamia argued opening a casino in the county would prey on compulsive gamblers and further strain the mental illness safety net.
“Are we going to cash in on the vices or are we going to do something to help the county?” he asked.
Not present at the meeting was the man behind the push for the Howe Caverns site, Emil Galasso, president of both Howe Caves LLC and Cobleskill Stone Products.
One critic of the proposal, Bruce Stacey, accused the county board of being willing to roll the dice on a project that he contended would bring no benefits to local residents.
“This casino is going to a private family and everyone knows it,” Stacey said. “What are you going to do for us?”
Last November, when voters statewide were asked in a ballot question whether they approved legalizing casino gaming, Schoharie County was narrowly divided, with a slim 51 majority approving the proposed change in the state Constitution, while 49 percent were opposed.
Tague, in an interview, called the Schoharie proposal a top contender for the casino license that would be issued for a region encompassing the Capital Region.
“We know we have the best site,” he said. “There’s no question about it.”
Galasso has been in discussions with several gaming companies interested in partnering on the Howe Cavern site, he said.
Tague noted Howe Caverns has a new water and sewer system that would help attract a developer.
The state is charging $1 million to file an application for a casino license. Once a state location board picks the site for the Capital Region, it will cost $50 million to obtain the actual license.