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New York casino board meets; recommendation on casino location expected soon

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ALBANY, New York — The decision on where to build casinos in upstate New York will make some developers very happy. For others, it will spell the disappointing end to a long and expensive bid for a piece of the action.

Sixteen proposals were submitted to the state. Four licenses are available. A verdict from the board tasked with picking the winners is expected within weeks.

The wait is agonizing for the developers and property owners behind the proposals, and the residents who hope a casino will bring jobs and tourists.

"Sometimes silence is golden," said Michael Smith, part of a team pitching a casino at the former Nevele Resort in the Catskills. "But sometimes it's deafening. The sooner we know, the sooner we can get to work."

The state's Gaming Facility Location Board met Friday for what is expected to be the final time before announcing its decision. In the past several months, the board held days of public hearings on the proposals, heard from more than 400 people during 34 hours of public comment sessions and received more than 3,000 written comments.

Voters last year authorized up to four upstate casinos, to be divided between three regions: the Albany-Saratoga area, the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes region and the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley. Two licenses could be awarded to a single region.

With its proximity to New York City, the Catskills/Hudson Valley region attracted the most competition. Nine developers are vying for a license there.

The state's move to expand its gambling offerings attracted a mix of big names like Genting, Mohegan Sun, Hard Rock and Caesars as well as local developers like the Walsh family, who hope to build the Traditions Casino and Resort near Binghamton, or the owners of Howe Caverns, who want to add a casino at the site of a Schoharie County show cave.

The board's decision isn't the final step. Background checks and environmental reviews will be completed, and the licenses must be formally awarded by the state's Gaming Commission. There's also the threat of lawsuits from local opponents concerned about traffic, environmental effects, zoning and the effects of expanded gambling.

While critics worried the process would be politicized, developers say they've been pleased by the siting board's diligence.

"Clearly they're down to the end. They've run a great process," said Jeffrey Hyman, with the proposed Howe Caverns Resort and Casino, one of four contenders in the Capital Region. "We can't state how much respect we have for the work they've done. It's been very transparent."

In many cases, the proposals are the results of years of work by property owners and developers. The teams have hired engineers, architects, lawyers, public relations experts and environmental consultants. When the formal applications were filed in June, one reached 6,000 pages. Another filled 21 boxes delivered by a U-Haul truck.

"Obviously there are going to be some unhappy people," said Jeff Gural, owner of the Tioga Downs harness track and racino, one of three applicants for a license in the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes. "I just hope I'm not one of them."

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