By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Despite sweltering heat, area residents gathered in Amsterdam Tuesday to voice their opposition to the Thruway Exit 27 casino proposal.
Three dozen people lined the intersection of Route 5 and Church Street holding signs reading "Clucking no casino," "Don't gamble away our future," and "Casinos don't feed people, farms do."
"We are trying to raise the profile of opposition, so people know that the county is not completely united," Sarah Cornett said. "Our hope is this proposal does not go through, and we are hoping the Gaming Commission considers the opposition."
The "no casino" rally came a day after casino developer Clair-vest Group Inc. submitted its application to the state Gaming Facility Location Board seeking to build and operate a resort and casino on a 512-acre parcel straddling the town of Florida and the city of Amsterdam.
The majority of those who gathered were farmers from the town of Florida, who said the casino doesn't belong in their back yard.
"No one is opposed to revitalizing Amsterdam," Sara Milon-ovich said. "We are opposed to a casino on 512 acres of working farmland. Once you develop farmland, it's gone."
She added that the town is an agricultural community and has a different economic model than the city of Amsterdam and the rest of the county.
"I don't mind if it goes in the city but I don't think it belongs in an agricultural community," Milonovich said.
Clairvest Group Inc. is proposing to transform the site with a $250 million project, which would be built in three phases over two years. It would consist of a casino, hotel, spa, two golf courses, 300 residential units, and potential commercial development.
Milonovich and many others do not believe the casino will produce $170 million in revenues and the 850 jobs being promised by the developer.
"This is all rainbows and lollipops and no one is considering the downside," dairy farmer Thomas Nelson said, adding he does not believe the developer will fulfill his promise of creating jobs.
"The Industrial Development Agency offers all these other companies to come here, and when they do, the businesses never make good on their promises," Nelson said.
Nelson and the farmers he stood with are upset that county officials never sought the opinions of all the local residents.
"I never saw my district legislator here in town," Nelson said. "I didn't see (District 5 legislator) Terry Bieniek at my end of the county asking if I wanted a casino."
Matthew Gogis compared the casino to the city's Riverfront Center, stating that while it would be beneficial for the first few years, interest would eventually decline and it would need to be bailed out.
Traffic and environmental impacts were some of the other concerns that were voiced.
There were only a handful of people from the city in the crowd, but they shared similar concerns as their neighbors. Some encouraged residents to call Mayor Ann Thane's office to voice their opposition.
"I don't think we need it," a woman named Dolores said. "News reports show that casinos are losing business, so why do we need something else that will probably lose business? We need farms."
A "yes casino" rally that was scheduled at Shuttleworth Park Tuesday was postponed due to the heat. As of this morning, the event had not been rescheduled.