Once again, the state lawmakers who represent the Saratoga area are appealing to the governor and legislative leaders to restore VLT Host Aid to Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County to offset the impact of hosting the local casino.
But unlike in past years, when they might have been able to make a somewhat plausible case for the aid, there’s even less justification for it this year than ever.
Begun in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, VLT aid was designed to offset the costs for the communities of hosting the Saratoga Casino such as emergency services, infrastructure and other impacts.
This year, the county and city would be entitled to more than $3.1 million in aid – $2.3 million for Saratoga Springs and about $775,000 for Saratoga County. according to a letter signed by a bipartisan group of local state lawmakers.
In this space exactly a year ago, we questioned the need for the aid, given the state’s pre-covid financial problems.
We argued that the state might have better uses for that $3 million than spreading it around a generally affluent community that’s not really hurt by the casino.
In fact, the casino brings in millions in revenue for the communities and the state.
Exactly what negative impact is the casino and hotel having on Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County?
Most of the traffic to the casino comes in on Route 9 and the Northway. Given so many tourist attractions and a thriving downtown business district in Saratoga, can local officials really attribute a significant impact on local roads and other infrastructure directly to the casino?
The casino also generates very little crime and very little demonstrated need for emergency services.
And with the covid crisis, the impact of the casino on the community was even less than usual in the past year.
Not only was the casino closed from mid-March to mid-September, having absolutely zero impact on emergency services or infrastructure for almost six months, but the city and county can’t even argue that it competed for resources with the Saratoga Performing Arts Center or the Saratoga racetrack, since SPAC was shut down all summer and the track operated without spectators last year.
We understand the county and the city are hurting financially due to covid.
But VLT aid is not meant to be a bailout for the city and county’s covid-related financial issues. No other community in the state is entitled to that. Why should a wealthy area like Saratoga get this bonus financial aid?
Like last year at this time, the state is facing a major budget deficit. But last year’s financial troubles have been compounded by the cost of business shutdowns, managing the health crisis and by the impact on educational institutions.
The VLT money diverted from Saratoga could better be used by schools in poor communities, by social institutions and to help offset the costs associated with covid testing and vaccine distribution.
Rather than give it to Saratoga, the state should put that money where it can do the most good.