ALBANY, N.Y. - Three economically distressed counties in upstate New York have been selected as sites for casinos, a panel announced Wednesday, bringing an end to a fierce competition among developers and job-hungry communities.
The Gaming Facility Location Board chose sites in Sullivan, Schenectady and Seneca counties and decided not to recommend a fourth license amid an increasingly saturated gambling market where consumers have more options closer to home. While casinos were once limited to Las Vegas, Atlantic City and a handful of tribal reservations, most Americans are now within a few hours' drive of a gambling facility.
Voters last year authorized up to four casinos in three upstate regions: the Albany-Saratoga area, the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes region and the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley.
The projects announced Wednesday:
— The Montreign Resort Casino will be built in the Catskills town of Thompson. The $630 million project will come with an 18-story casino and hotel complex, meeting spaces and an indoor waterpark. Its developer, Empire Resorts, operates through a subsidiary, the nearby Monticello Casino & Raceway.
— The Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in the city of Schenectady will be part of a larger redevelopment effort at a formerly blighted riverfront site. The $300 million project will include a hotel, a high-end steakhouse, 66 gambling tables and more than 1,100 slot machines.
— Lago Resort & Casino, a $425 million project in the Finger Lakes town of Tyre in Seneca County, will include 2,000 slot machines. It was the largest contender in the Finger Lakes-Southern Tier region.
The board opted not to award a license in New York City's suburban Orange County, the site of six competing proposals. Board Chairman Kevin Law noted that several faced environmental and financial uncertainties and would have taken revenue from other gambling facilities.
"We did take a look at what was happening in the entire industry," he said. "At the end of the day we had to do what made financial sense."
At Bernie's Holiday Restaurant in Sullivan County, dozens of casino supporters who gathered to watch the decision live cheered and hugged after the Montreign proposal was announced.
"It's going to be huge," said Pamela Pesante, a real estate agent. "Jobs! People! Homes can get sold! It's exactly what we need to boost our economy and our spirits."
"This mean rebirth. This means new life," said restaurant owner Randy Resnick. "Basically, it's our shot. This is our time."
Applicants submitted 16 bids for licenses. With its proximity to New York City, the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley attracted the most interest, with nine bidders.
The three regions were picked to spread out the benefits — and to avoid competition with existing tribal casinos.
The three selected projects are projected to support more than 3,200 full-time jobs and generate $265 million in tax revenues, along with $136 million in licensing fees.
"We needed this," said Schenectady resident James Torre, whose father worked at a locomotive plant at the site of the future casino. "This is going to be good jobs, good development."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the casinos will act as a "magnet" to lure New York City residents to upstate destinations and reduce the amount of money New York gamblers spend in other states.
"Our point is: Let's keep them. Let's keep their dollars in New York," Cuomo said.
For the winners, Wednesday's decision represented the successful conclusion to a long and expensive push.
"A lot of effort, about $8 million and two years," said Thomas Wilmot, developer of the Lago Resort & Casino. "I'm elated."
For the others, the loss was bitter — especially in the Southern Tier. Earlier Wednesday, Cuomo's administration announced a ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, which some in the region had hoped would provide an economic lifeline.
"The Southern Tier just got wiped out economically," said Jeff Gural, owner of the Tioga Downs racino, one of two losing bidders in the Southern Tier.
The licenses will be formally awarded by the Gaming Commission after background checks and other final reviews.
Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed to this report from Sullivan County.