Report on casino benefits questioned
Independence of research criticized by gambling foes
SARATOGA SPRINGS A gambling industry study released Tuesday touts the economic benefits of a casino in Saratoga Springs, but critics of the report say it doesn’t paint the whole picture.
Assuming a $38 million development at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway and the eventual legalization of table gaming there and at eight other sites where video lottery terminals currently exist in the state, the study predicts 581 new jobs created in Saratoga County, almost $18 million annually in new revenue to the state and nearly $1 million in yearly local tax contributions.
Included in the job projections are 395 positions in casino operations, including work at the proposed hotel, restaurant and events center.
“At the end of the day, 400 new direct jobs is an impact on any community,” said Rita Cox, a spokeswoman for the racino.
The expansion could also lead to 82 new jobs in the community through spending by new casino employees and hiring by companies doing business with the new casino. Those new jobs would primarily be retail and professional service jobs, according to Hugh O’Neill, president of Appleseed, the firm that conducted the study.
More than 80 percent of the state’s revenue would come from its share of the money gambled at the casino. The figure is based on the state getting 57 percent of the casino’s take on slot machines, the same rate it currently receives from VLTs, and 15 percent of the take on table games such as poker and blackjack. The take by the casino was estimated by an outside gambling research firm.
Locally, $467,200 would be generated in hotel taxes from the proposed hotel, there would be $190,300 in sales tax revenue from the total casino operation and $276,900 would be generated in sales tax revenue by spending from new casino employees.
Joseph Dalton, former president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, questioned the independence of the report and characterized the projections as “guesstimates.”
“I could probably go to Skidmore College and get a study that says the moon is blue,” said Dalton, who has been an outspoken opponent of casino gambling for many years. “It all depends on who did the study and who paid for the study.”
This study was commissioned by the New York Gaming Association, whose members include the nine existing racinos.
Dalton opposed the addition of VLTs at what was formerly known as Saratoga Raceway, but he now concedes the racino has had a minor positive impact and predicted it wouldn’t radically change with a casino. Based on the racino experience, he said that most customers at a Saratoga Springs casino would come from within 50 miles and spend all their money at the casino.
That was echoed by Earl Grinols, a Baylor College professor who has written a book and reports on the economics of casinos. From his studies, he said casinos typically compete with existing businesses, noting that local restaurants are among the industries that lose with a restaurant casino.
“Casinos try to keep their consumers on site until they’ve used up all of their money,” Grinols said.
O’Neill rejected the idea that the casino would hurt local businesses, but said there was an impact eventually as spending balanced out in a community. For the most part, though, he argued that a casino in Saratoga Springs would attract customers from outside the state and recapture consumers who had been leaving the state for this type of experience.
“It expands the pie,” O’Neill said of a casino, “and takes some pieces of the pie away from neighboring states.”
Grinols added that even if there was a net benefit from a casino, it could only be foretold by an independent study. When the gaming industry issues reports, he said his experience has shown that the “numbers are completely made up.”
He added, “They’re only sharing the things they want you to know about.”
The social costs of a casino, like crime and lost productivity, were not looked at because the Gaming Association did not request it. O’Neill said there would be social costs, although they would be overshadowed by the positives.
Regardless of the projected benefits, he stressed that the proposed $38 million expansion would create 390 temporary jobs, as has been previously reported.
Joanne Yepsen, a Saratoga Springs representative on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, was encouraged by the potential benefits espoused in the report but said the role of the racing industry in the community shouldn’t be overshadowed by a casino.