At a public forum April 30 on the pros and cons of hosting a gambling casino in Lake George, local resident Joanne Gavin calls for collaboration to solve economic problems in Lake George, rather than lobbying the state for a casino — without appropriate research. About 240 people attended the forum, held in the Fort William Henry Conference Center.
Whether hosting a gambling casino would boost local prosperity in Warren County or spoil the local quality of life was debated with passion Monday as about 240 area residents spoke their minds at a public forum held at Fort William Henry Conference Center.
The session, sponsored by the Lake George Village Board, started with presentations from Attorney Michael Garry of Albany and Robert Sturges, an attorney who has served as an executive of Nevada Gold Casinos — decades after he was a deputy Attorney General in New Jersey that fought organized crime involved in casino operations.
Sturges talked of substantial positive economic benefits that municipalities reap when they host casinos.
Garry detailed the status of the legislation and court challenges that are likely to accompany New York State’s venture into hosting up to nine casinos.
Sturges said that a casino in Warren County would dramatically increase tourism, and that event planners preferred to host business conventions where casinos were located. He continued that casinos routinely employ 2,000 people and generate $300 million annually — as well as generate about 1,800 additional jobs in the community and another $150 million in spin-off economic activity locally.
“A casino would be a huge magnet for visitors, and everyone would benefit,” he said.
Sturges predicted that a casino would boost the fortunes of nearby businesses, citing surveys that show casino visitors routinely eat or shop outside the casino complex.
After the presentation, a number of residents objected to the village leaders not offering a balance of professional opinions on the issue, as they were hosting two advocates for casinos, yet no one speaking about the potential negative aspects of hosting gambling.
“We’re being sold a bill of goods — there are no anti-casino representatives here,” Zach Richards said, looking at the village board.
Resident Bonnie Colomb challenged Sturges’ optimism over hosting a casino.
“You are throwing around grandiose figures,” she said. “Transforming Lake George from a family-friendly resort to a gambling destination is repugnant.”
Criticizing Village Mayor Robert Blais and Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson for their comments of apparent support for a casino published in the Lake George Mirror, Colomb offered some advice.
“The leaders of this community have to find out different ways to solve the problems of growth and economic success that is so needed — we are a different, quaint village that has a ton of history that could be parlayed into a strong future.”
Lake George Steamboat Co. owner Bill Dow offered an opposing view, citing how hosting riverboat gambling in Mississippi gave thousands of people jobs, pulling them out of poverty, while providing vital support for local schools.
He criticized Warren County officials for not yet lobbying the state for a casino.
“Saratoga County leaders are behind hosting a casino 100 percent, but our county fellas have done zero,” he said, noting that a casino in Saratoga Springs — considered a likely site — would offer no benefits for Warren County residents. “If we don’t speak up for this, it is damn short-sighted of us.”
Lake George store owner Patty Kirkpatrick also expressed support for a casino, in part because it would boost property values, which she said had been stagnant for longer than a decade.
“I strongly urge our county supervisors to get on the ‘casino train’ for the vitality of Lake George,” she said.
SUNY Adirondack Business Professor Chandler Atkins also expressed support, noting it was a trend that Lake George residents shouldn’t ignore. He observed that local youth were now moving away due to more prosperous career prospects elsewhere.
“We are exporting our students,” he said. “But if we support this, our tourism industry could grow amazingly.”
John Carr, owner of Adirondack Pub & Brewery, said he recognized the potential economic benefits, but he personally didn’t like gambling — and had reservations about Lake George hosting a casino.
Although a casino would likely provide year-round employment, perhaps for 1,000 or so people in town who now live below poverty level, there might be negative offsetting factors, he said. Carr continued that multi-national corporations might be the only entities reaping the substantial benefits that some people predict.
"We have to investigate this,” Carr said. “A lot of research needs to be done.”
George Thurston, a retired engineer, said he had reviewed independent studies on the issue — and he was wary of gambling’s impact, citing a soaring number of bankruptcies in communities that host gambling.
“There’s a lot of revenue, but at the expense of poor people who can’t afford to spend their money at casinos,” he said. “Gambling strips the economy at the lower levels while enriching the wealthy.”
Joanne Gavin suggested that village leaders consider other types of major attractions, perhaps developing a ski area on nearby Prospect Mountain.
“Let’s not grasp at something that’s thrown at us and sold to us, let’s work collectively towards solutions to our problems,” she said, calling for collaboration instead of the prevailing divisive controversy over hosting gambling