Many local leaders and residents, weighing in Friday on a Tioga Downs proposal to become a full casino, said it would be a boon for a region that's been struggling to overcome years of economic decline.
The hearing in Binghamton, before the New York casino location review board, was another step in the process of awarding a possible fourth casino license. Three licenses were recommended for other projects around the state last year.
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The audience at the hearing seemed generally supportive of the proposal, which promises to bring several hundred new jobs to the Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania border.
"The Southern Tier's unemployment rate is among the highest in the state and in the nation," said George Miner, president of Southern Tier Economic Growth Inc. and a member of the local regional economic council. "These new jobs are sorely needed."
Laury Poland of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association said a full casino would be "another jewel in our crown."
"All we're looking for is some hope," said Nichols resident Ryan Bombard.
Bombard was among several who lauded Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural for his charitable giving in the Southern Tier. Gural received a round of applause when he walked into the room after the board heard more than 90 minutes of testimony.
Varick Supervisor Robert Hayssen said just as he supported the Lago casino closer to his town in Seneca County, he also is supporting Tioga because of the additional revenue it would bring in.
Tioga Downs is the lone contender for a casino license available in the region. If the state approves the proposal, the facility plans to expand its gambling options and add a new hotel, restaurants and an event venue.
Tioga Downs submitted a bid for a casino last year, but the location board recommended three other projects around the state. The racino submitted a second application when bidding was reopened for a fourth license when local leaders complained about the Southern Tier being left out.
The state has no timetable for a decision on the license.
The other three casino projects — Lago Resort & Casino in the Finger Lakes; Montreign Resort Casino in the Catskills; and Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady — await the state Gaming Commission's formal licensing.