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Cuomo’s casino picture far from clear for Saratoga officials

Thursday, May 16, 2013
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— Saratoga County business leaders and gaming officials are hedging their bets on live-table casino gaming in New York state.

Despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlining some specifics last week of his vision for locating casinos in New York, the future prospects for Saratoga Springs are still up in the air, said Saratoga Casino & Raceway Vice President of Marketing and External Affairs Rita Cox during a breakfast for the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. The gathering has become an annual affair, with Cox talking about plans for the racino to expand into a casino at last year’s gathering.

The state Legislature is considering second-passage of a constitutional amendment that would allow seven non-Indian, live-table casinos in New York. If approved, the measure would then have to pass a statewide public referendum this fall or next year.

A sticking point in this process is the amendment’s enacting legislation, which would identify where casinos might go and how operators would be chosen. Cuomo wants the enacting legislation to only identify an initial round of three upstate casinos and a five-year moratorium on the next round.

As part of the governor’s plan, which has not been written in legislation, casino operators would propose a casino in one of six upstate regions. Proposals would be considered by a temporary select committee on their effective tax rate, local support for the plan, potential jobs that could be created and other qualifications.

Possible locations for casinos became a little clearer Thursday afternoon after the state announced an agreement with the Oneida Indian Nation, which operates the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in central New York. That agreement gives the Oneidas exclusive gaming rights in its region, which leaves only five possible regions, including the eight-county Capital Region, for the three upstate casinos.

The preliminary bid criteria outlined by Cuomo, Cox said, did not have enough information to determine what a proposal for a casino license should look like.

She told the crowd of civic and business leaders she hoped this breakfast would be a chance to expand on the details of the Saratoga Casino & Raceway’s planned expansion with live-table gaming. They had previously outlined a $38 million expansion that would add a hotel and employ an additional number of people. Without a clear idea of the state’s gaming future, she wasn’t able to provide “pretty pictures” or dates when shovels could break ground.

“Until there is more information on what the next steps are, we’re just trying to understand how it would impact us and how we would react to it,” Cox added after the event.

Chamber President Todd Shimkus said after the breakfast they felt they knew more about the state’s casino plans at last year’s breakfast than they do now. “Last year was about what they build if this happened, but now we’re not even sure if that is possible,” he said.

Limiting the number of casinos to seven was also addressed by Cox, who expected nine non-Indian casinos would be approved at last year’s breakfast. Regarding a proposal last year from the nine racino members for them all to become live-table casinos, she said, “That seemed like it had legs.”

In the wake of the decision to only have seven non-Indian casinos, Saratoga Casino & Raceway has maintained it should be allowed to evolve. Cox reiterated that position Thursday, noting their operation was the first racino in the state and had exceeded initial expectations.

Shimkus said the chamber and its members are considering four points when deciding if they’ll support the expansion of live-table gaming.

“Saratoga has to be designated, money [from Saratoga Casino & Raceway] for agribusiness needs to continue, money from [Genting’s racino at] Aqueduct continues to go to breeders and [New York Racing Association] purses and the host benefit is guaranteed,” he said. “If any one of those four pieces are not part of this, I don’t know if we’ll be supportive.”

Cox also said it was too soon to tell whether Saratoga Casino & Raceway would lobby against the constitutional amendment if it wasn’t accompanied with a plan to site live-table games in Saratoga Springs.

Cox also declined comment on the governor’s recent assertion that taxpayers got a raw deal from the racinos and that only operators have gotten rich. The state’s nine racinos generated almost $317 million in tax revenue, including about $220 million for education, in the first three months of this year, a 5 percent increase from the same period last year.

 
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