Supervisors change minds on casino


By David Avitabile

In a quick reversal Friday morning, Schoharie Country supervisors agreed to support bringing a casino to the county.
After hearing a pitch from Howe Caverns representatives, supervisors approved a resolution that they turned down last month. The resolution, which passed by a 13-3 margin, does not mention the Caverns as a location for a casino.
Supervisors' decision was contingent on holding a public hearing on the issue. A hearing will be scheduled as soon as practical.
Supervisors, residents and Howe Caverns representatives discussed the issue for nearly two hours Friday morning.
In a series of votes, supervisors first agreed to strike a resolution that supported the building of a casino at Howe Caverns and reconsider the resolution that was turned down last month; then agreed to hold a public hearing on the issue; and then approved the resolution supporting the locating of a casino in the county.
Though Howe Caverns is no longer mentioned as a location, Caverns representatives said they will request an application by the March 31 deadline.
A casino would benefit Schoharie County, Caverns spokesman Chris Tague told supervisors.
"We're here this morning to open up the development of Schoharie County."
Since Howe Caverns officials have expressed an interest in sighting a casino on their property, there has been a tremendous amount of interest, Mr. Tague added.
"It's taken on a life of its own. People are saying, "Why not Howe Caverns?"
He has spoken to more than 20 developers and many see the caverns property as "the perfect place."
A casino, he added, would not be run by Howe Caverns but just located on the property.
"We're not looking to be in the casino business," Mr. Tague said.
He urged supervisors to put Schoharie County "in the game" for a casino.
"We're committed. We're committed either way, whether it's ours or another place. Let's try something...At least give Schoharie County the opportunity."
The final determination on where upstate casinos will be built will be determined by a five-member state board.
Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone, who presented the resolution last month, immediately came out against the resolution mentioning Howe Caverns as a potential site.
Several other landowners in the county are interested in using their property to build a casino, he said. The county board should not be earmarking one specific entity as a location.
"We're here to represent the people of Schoharie County. Let the competition begin," Mr. Milone said.
Numerous times during the long discussion and debate, Mr. Tague mentioned that last November Schoharie County residents, by a 51-to-49 percent margin, voted in favor of placing casinos in upstate regions, including Schoharie County.
Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister argued that residents did not vote on building a casino within the county, just in Upstate New York.
Mr. McAllister and Conesville Supervisor Bill Federice argued that a public hearing is necessary.
Mr. Federice noted that a casino in the county is "something monumental" and would "change the face of Schoharie County forever."
Several supervisors said they have gotten lots of opinions on both sides of the casino issue in the last month.
Esperance Supervisor Earl VanWormer said all the calls he has gotten on the issue have been against but those speaking to him in person have been in favor.
Mr. McAllister said he is not in favor of a casino in the county, but that about 60 percent of the people who have spoken to him have supported the proposal.
Sean Jordan of Jefferson argued that a casino could have economic impact "more than we can ever imagine."
A casino, he continued, would increase the exposure and traffic count for the county.
County officials should "stop taking ourselves off the economic development lists."
In the end, the resolution to support the building of a casino in the county passed by a 13-3 margin with Carl Barbic of Seward, Larry Bradt of Carlisle, and Mr. Federice voting no.