Public comment session in Ithaca draws casino supporters, opposition

Sep 25, 2014

The jockeying for a coveted casino license in New York state's Southern Tier and Finger Lakes was on display at a public comment session in Ithaca Wednesday. The New York Gaming Facility Location Board wrapped up a series of public hearings by listening to arguments about proposed casinos in what is called the Eastern Southern Tier region.

Supporters see a casino as a golden opportunity to bring life back to a part of the state that is still stumbling economically. Peter Walsh is from the family that owns Traditions, an entertainment venue in Johnson City, near Binghamton. He says his group's biggest plus is the proximity to an urban area that’s got one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

"We have 200,000 people in our close proximity," Walsh said. "And we have 5,000 more unemployed right in our county. So there’s a huge workforce already there."

Supports attend a public meeting in Ithaca, wearing shirts highlighting the region's need for jobs.
Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Then there’s Tioga Downs, about 30 miles west of Johnson City, in Nichols. Tioga Downs is already a gambling venue with a racetrack and racino. Gwen Kanin, president of the Tioga County Chamber of Commerce, wants that taken into consideration.

"To bring it to other areas where it will detract from Tioga Downs, an established business, is unfair,” Kanin explained.

Seneca County Supervisor Robert Shipley supports a proposal by mall developer Thomas Wilmot to build the Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre. What’s his selling point? He says a casino in Tyre would have a bigger job reach than the Southern Tier competitors.
"When you look at all the numbers, the Lago proposal will benefit all the other counties within Region Five, more than any other proposal," Shipley said.

Other supporters contend that casinos would boost the economies of Broome, Tioga and Seneca Counties. Michael Davis, president of the Finger Lakes Building Trades Association, says it’s all about jobs.

“New York has bled jobs for years," Davis said. "My area in particular, we’ve lost all sorts of manufacturing. I’m from right in the heart of the Finger Lakes and the loss of manufacturing has also affected our tourism greatly. So it’s something we need to spur the economy in our area, I know that for sure.”

Members of Casino-Free Tyre sit in the front row of a public comment session held in Ithaca. Members say casino jobs are not the best jobs to bring to the region.
Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Davis says upstate New York has been struggling to generate jobs, but a casino could help turn things around.

"We have a membership of 145 members," Davis explained. "I currently have over 43 people out of work. That’s 43 families that have no hope until next spring, unless something good comes along.”

The only organized opposition came from Casino-Free Tyre. Spokesman James Dawley sympathizes with the job plight in these communities, but wonders if these are the right kind of jobs.

"Probably the energy that went into getting a casino could have been more productive used to bring industry to Tyre," Davis said.

Dawley says he is skeptical that local people will get the thousands of jobs promised, considering the shuttering of casinos in Atlantic City and other areas recently.

“These people come trained, with experience," Dawley said. "The stipulation is hire locally, when possible. And I’m pretty sure that someone with training will be chosen first, so I don’t see it affecting the locals that well.”

A state board is reviewing 16 casino proposals statewide and later this year, the will recommend at least one project in each of the state’s three regions, although one region could get two casinos.