Saratoga County

Saratoga racino turns focus back to expansion

Disappointment came twofold and in quick succession for the operators of the Saratoga Casino and Rac

Disappointment came twofold and in quick succession for the operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway during Wednesday’s announcement of the locations awarded the first state casino licenses.

First, their $670 million proposal to build the Hudson Valley Casino & Resort in Newburgh was torpedoed when the state Gaming Commission’s facility location board indicated they wouldn’t issue a license for any of the six facilities pitched for the lucrative Orange County market due to their proximity to downstate gaming interests.

Then, moments later, the board announced it was recommending Schenectady get the Capital Region’s sole casino license, rather than the racino partners’ proposed Capital View Casino & Resort in East Greenbush.

Yet any disillusionment from the failed proposals was muted in a succinct statement released by the racino about an hour after the board revealed it selections. Spokeswoman Rita Cox said the company will now put its efforts into a $30 million expansion of the existing Saratoga racino, which they hope will bring a 108-room boutique hotel, 137-seat fine-dining restaurant and day spa to its sprawling video lottery terminal facility.

“The additional amenities and job opportunities will help ensure our long-term growth and success,” she said. “Saratoga Casino and Raceway has been a community partner for decades, and we will continue to be for decades to come.”

Likewise, officials with Churchill Downs — the Kentucky-based company that paid $30.6 million to purchase a quarter-share of the racino this fall — were upbeat about the future, despite the failure of the East Greenbush proposal and the likelihood a Schenectady casino will siphon gaming dollars from the Saratoga facility.

Once believed to be the frontrunner in the bid to bring live-table games to the Capital Region — so much so that some companies were initially hesitant to develop competing proposals — the racino operators encountered staunch opposition when Saratoga Springs was suggested as a casino location last year. Public outcry and a loosely worded resolution from the City Council perceived by many as being anti-casino prompted the operators to seek a new site in Rensselaer County in May.

But their plan to build a $300 million casino and resort didn’t fare much better in East Greenbush. Opponents even filed a lawsuit in October in an effort to block the proposal.

The impact of a full-fledged casino in Schenectady, 22 miles from the racino, remains to be seen, but the forecast isn’t rosy. A study included in the racino’s proposal suggested a casino about 35 miles away in East Greenbush would erode annual business by $90 million, or 48.2 percent — “revenue cannibalization” that would almost certainly spell a reduction in jobs.

Any drop in business at the racino is also likely to impact its harness track, as the harness racing industry struggled mightily before being bolstered by VLT revenue in 2004.

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