Saratoga racino sets sights on casino license

A majority of voters in Saratoga County and the Capital Region voted against an expansion of gamblin

A majority of voters in Saratoga County and the Capital Region voted against an expansion of gambling in the state, but that won’t deter the Saratoga Casino and Raceway from vying for a casino license next year.

While 57 percent of voters across the state approved Proposition 1, which amended the state constitution to allow up to seven non-Indian, live-table casinos, a slim majority in the Capital Region voted against the proposition. Opposition in the Capital Region consisted of almost 53 percent of Albany County voters, more than 54 percent of Schenectady County voters and almost 54 percent of Saratoga County voters, including a majority of Saratoga Springs voters. A majority of voters in Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties supported the proposition.

It’s full speed ahead for the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which plans on submitting a proposal for a license next year when a request for proposals is issued. “[Tuesday] night is done and we’re now moving forward,” said Saratoga racino Vice President of Marketing and External Affairs Rita Cox.

The racino has made the only vocal commitment to compete for a casino license in the Capital Region, which will get at least one of the four upstate casinos that will be allocated in the first wave. The four casinos will be distributed among the Capital Region, Southern Tier and the Catskills.

Cox added that the racino is still planning to break ground by early spring on a $30 million expansion that was announced earlier this year and isn’t contingent on the site getting live-table games. The upgrade would include a hotel, fine dining restaurant and entertainment venue.

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan Grattidge, R-Charlton, is still a proponent of the expansion and wants the site to get live-table games, citing potential jobs, financial support and education aid. Under his leadership, the county government has passed a resolution in support of the racino evolving. He is awaiting further details from the state on what the county needs to do to fulfill the local support portion of the siting equation. One factor in deciding where a casino will go is whether there is local support for a casino.

“The [proposition] numbers are interesting in the different areas, but at the end of the day I want to be in the conversation to be a host community,” Grattidge said, noting that the state Division of Budget has estimated the host community of a casino would receive an additional $11 million in annual revenue.

He also argued that many people who voted against the proposition will see things differently now that the measure passed. Those opposed in Saratoga County, he said, likely won’t want to miss out on potential revenue by having a casino go to one of the other seven counties in the Capital Region.

“The issue generates real emotion in the city,” said Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus. “My sense is that it goes back to the fight that went back 12 years ago [with the racino issue].”

There was also a local concern, Shimkus said, about how a casino could co-exist with businesses it might compete with, such as Saratoga Performing Arts Center and downtown restaurants and hotels. If an agreement can be worked out between the affected businesses and the Saratoga racino, Shimkus predicted local support would increase.

Opposition to Proposition 1 in Albany and Schenectady counties may have been driven largely by fears of an increase in problem gambling and an increase in crime. The turnout was especially surprising in Albany County, where County Executive Dan McCoy and outgoing Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings were vocal supporters of the proposition, noted Vernon Downs minority property owner Gary Greenberg.

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