Saratoga County

Casino proposal coming up roses

Operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway are banking on a partnership with the owners of Churchi

Operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway are banking on a partnership with the owners of Churchill Downs in Kentucky to help move their $300 million casino proposal in East Greenbush to the finish line.

Churchill Downs Inc., which owns the historic track in Louisville and hosts the renowned Kentucky Derby annually, will join the operators of the Saratoga Springs racino in developing an application for a casino license, the two companies announced Tuesday. James Featherstonhaugh, the racino’s minority owner, hopes the partnership between the companies makes the proposal the odds-on favorite to secure one of four casino licenses being offered in the state.

“Our organizations both come from a horse-racing heritage and have a combined two centuries of proven gaming experience,” he said following the announcement at the Holiday Inn Express in East Greenbush. “With this partnership, we look forward to a shared future in creating jobs and growing the Capital Region economy.”

Neither company would detail how the partnership will operate. Rita Cox, a spokeswoman for the racino, said it’s “too early in the process” for such specifics and said both companies are now concentrating exclusively on producing a winning application.

Churchill Downs brings both prestige and capital to the racino’s application. The publicly traded company enjoyed record revenues of $779 million and increased the value of its common stock by 35 percent in 2013.

It operates five racetracks and six casinos and employs more than 4,500 workers across 10 states. The company also operates the online wagering site, is in the video poker business, owns a poker brand company and operates a multistate network of off-track betting facilities.

“Churchill Downs is very successful — one of the most successful gaming companies in the country,” Cox said. “They bring resources and reputation to the table that helps make this bid even stronger.”

The East Greenbush proposal includes plans for a 100,000-square-foot casino on roughly 130 acres of vacant land along Thompson Hill — a road adjacent to Route 4 and with access from either Exit 8 or Exit 9 on Interstate 90. Also included in the plan are a 300-room hotel, 20,000 square feet of retail space, several restaurants, two parking garages and “multiple entertainment venues,” according to preliminary plans released by the racino operators.

“This is what we view as the best proposal in the state — certainly in the Capital Region,” Shawn Bailey, Churchhill Downs’ senior vice president of business development, said following a visit to East Greenbush. “This is where we are focusing our energies.”

The companies estimate their proposal will create 1,700 jobs — both during construction and when the project is completed — and pledged they will not require any tax breaks or other public financing. The location will also help draw back gamblers who are now departing for casinos in other states, explained Bill Carstanjen, president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs.

“Together we’ll deliver a destination resort casino that will create reliable revenues for the entire Capital Region, generate thousands of jobs and be best positioned to keep New York gaming dollars in New York,” he said.

The East Greenbush proposal appears to be the furthest developed among six potential sites identified in the Capital Region. The new partnership is also one of only two that have linked to a specific site, the other being Clairvest, a Toronto-based private equity management firm interested in a site near Thruway Exit 27 in Montgomery County.

The racino operators estimate their proposal would generate $24.1 million annually for the Capital Region, in addition to $5.7 million each for both the town and Rensselaer County. The proposal already has a resolution of support from the East Greenbush Town Board, a prerequisite for having a license application reviewed.

The East Greenbush proposal also far exceeds the $182.25 million minimum capital investment figure released by the state Gaming Commission on Monday.

The racino operators also argue their proposal would help protect the viability of their video lottery terminal facility and harness track in Saratoga Springs.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Cox said.

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