Saratoga County, city leaders to seek full casino
SARATOGA COUNTY If the state Legislature and voters approve casino gambling for New York state, Saratoga County officials want one of the full-scale casinos to be in Saratoga Springs.
The county Board of Supervisors is poised to vote Tuesday on giving its “strong support” for Saratoga Casino and Raceway as one of the state-sanctioned gambling locations.
“The Racing Committee and all the other stakeholders believe that if casino gambling is going to go anywhere in New York state, it should be in Saratoga County,” said County Administrator Spencer Hellwig.
The board’s Racing and Law and Finance committees both approved resolutions last week, sending the matter to the full Board of Supervisors for action Tuesday in Ballston Spa. They said the community has benefited overall from the electronic slot machine gambling now available at the harness track.
“The success of the Casino and Raceway speaks for itself,” said Supervisor Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, vice-chairman of the Racing Committee.
The county would be looking for some form of host community benefits if a full casino came in, officials added.
A strong endorsement for a full range of gambling activities would come a decade after a divided Board of Supervisors agreed to allow video lottery terminals at the harness facility — which eventually became the first racino in the state. The state Legislature had agreed to allow VLT gambling as a way to raise state revenue following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, subject to approvals by the host counties.
The facility at Jefferson Street and Crescent Avenue in the city currently has harness horse racing and a “casino” with 1,700 VLTs. The casino area opened in 2004.
Raceway officials said in January they want to be one of the sites if the state’s voters approve full casino gambling. They proposed a $40 million expansion with a hotel, events center and 15,000 square feet of additional casino space. Casino and Raceway officials estimated 400 permanent jobs would be created.
The county’s planned endorsement comes as statewide discussion is expected to heat up in the next year on a proposed constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying the state is losing revenue and tourist traffic to neighboring states, has proposed an amendment that would legalize gambling with table games staffed by dealers.
Gambling on non-Indian lands is currently prohibited under the constitution. Cuomo says allowing gambling could generate as much as $1 billion a year in economic activity.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut all have legal gambling at certain locations, while Massachusetts has authorized gambling and is in the process of selecting casino sites. One will be in western Massachusetts.
Under the constitutional amendment process, the earliest a change could be approved would be in November 2013, by a ballot referendum.
The lengthy process started when a constitutional amendment was approved by the Legislature last spring, after Cuomo emphasized it in last year’s State of the State address. The proposed amendment must pass through the Legislature a second time before it can go to voters, who must approve it.
The current amendment proposal says there will be seven casinos in the state but does not specify where they would be located.
The New York Gaming Association, which represents the nine existing racinos, including Saratoga Casino and Raceway, wants the casinos to be located at existing racino operations.
The Saratoga Springs-area economy now receives more than $200 million in annual benefits from the horse industry, with thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Race Course and harness racing at the nearby Casino and Raceway, according to an economic analysis done for the county.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson said he’ll ask the City Council to consider a similar resolution when it meets Tuesday night, endorsing a local casino and host community benefits if voters decide to approve a constitutional amendment.
“If there’s going to be casino gambling in New York state, we think Saratoga should be part of it,” he said.
The mayor said the city resolution will also ask that the seven potential casino sites be identified in the constitutional amendment that would be put before voters.
The Casino and Raceway this week announced it would distribute $100,000 from its proceeds to community nonprofit organizations.
“We understand the importance of continued support for local organizations that make a difference in our community,” said Jamie Hartman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the facility.