Saratoga County committee holds off on deciding whether to endorse casinos
SARATOGA COUNTY The Saratoga County Racing Committee will continue to avoid taking a position on endorsing Las Vegas-style gambling in Saratoga Springs, its chairman said Monday.
But Supervisor Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, also said the local majorities voting against the constitutional amendment that has legalized gambling don’t necessarily reflect public opposition to having a casino in the city, now that gambling will be legal.
“It’s two separate decisions, legalizing gambling statewide and putting a casino in Saratoga Springs,” he said at a committee meeting Monday in Ballston Spa.
With the gambling amendment having passed statewide, the question now is whether a Capital Region casino will be placed at Saratoga Casino and Raceway or at another site, such as a waterfront project in Rensselaer, he said.
“The question is whether we want it in our back yard, or someone else’s back yard 30 minutes away,” said Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who attended the meeting.
County officials in the past have been strongly supportive of a having a local casino if full-gaming casinos are legalized — but that position has been complicated by the fact that 54 percent of county residents, and 57 percent of Saratoga Springs residents, voted against legalizing gambling.
Since the Nov. 5 vote, a opposition group called S.A.V.E. — for Saratogians Against Vegas-style Expansion — has formed. It attracted an estimated 300 people to its first meeting, held at City Hall on Nov. 18.
The group has collected 1,500 signatures on a petition against a local casino, and plans to present its research on gambling in other communities to county and city officials.
“Our main goal is to just have our representatives represent us,” said Colin Klepetar, one of SAVE’s founders, who also attended Monday’s meeting.
The constitutional amendment authorizes four new casinos in upstate New York, with at least one to be located in the Capital Region.
In January, the state Gaming Commission will appoint a five-member board to select the casino locations, based on a variety of factors. It isn’t clear how much weight will be given to local public opinion.
Had local voters supported the amendment, the Racing Committee would probably have endorsed a local casino when it met Nov. 7. However, it didn’t vote that day, and may not vote at all, Veitch said. Monday’s meeting was the first since then.
“Really, delaying the vote gives us the opportunity to have a community dialogue on the pros and cons of having a casino at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway,” he said.
The raceway now has video-lottery terminals in a casinolike atmosphere, but does not have full gaming. It has proposed a $30 million expansion, including a new hotel, to accommodate additional gambling.
The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce will hold a public forum on gambling at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16, at the Saratoga Springs City Center. Chamber President Todd Shimkus said the chamber is planning for up to 1,000 people to attend, given public interest in the matter.
The panelists, yet to be announced, will be experts on issues like a casino’s economic impacts, the impact on horse racing, and problem gambling, he said.
“There’s no litmus test for the panelists, in terms of pro and con,” Shimkus said.
The county Board of Supervisors’ official position — as stated in a December 2012 resolution — is in favor of full-scale gambling and a casino in the city.
The issue and the results of the recent vote provoked lively discussion at the committee meeting.
“The majority of people did say no, whether we agree with it or not,” said Supervisor Patti Southworth, I-Ballston. “Their concerns have to be taken seriously.”
Others, however, believe the local referendum results don’t reflect how people feel about a Saratoga Springs casino.
“A lot of people who voted no didn’t know the parameters of what they were voting on, they just don’t like gambling,” said Supervisor Tom Richardson, D-Mechanicville.