GUEST COLUMN: Time to end casino’s harness track subsidy

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Second race final turn on opening day of harness racing season at Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs on Sunday, February 17, 2019.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Second race final turn on opening day of harness racing season at Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs on Sunday, February 17, 2019.

By Gary R. McCarthy
For The Daily Gazette

The Daily Gazette got it right with your recent editorial calling for a settlement between Rivers Casino and the Saratoga Harness Track over subsidy payments.

Please allow me to make a few additional points that may be helpful to resolving the subsidy issue.

It is important to remember that Saratoga, like Schenectady and other Capital Region communities, had the opportunity to compete for and win designation as a regional casino.

At the time, community opposition in Saratoga stopped their bid. Saratoga did not even enter the regional competition, which was won by Schenectady and Rivers Casino.

So, after choosing not to compete, the harness track owners still insisted on receiving subsidies from the winning site.

This is a bit bizarre.

Please think about this for a minute. The harness track decided not to compete, but then wanted a subsidy from the winner.

That’s not exactly a square deal, especially when you consider that Rivers is the only casino in New York state that has to subsidize a nearby racetrack with slot machines.

Some might argue that a subsidy is needed because Rivers is a larger casino that features real gaming with live table games and that it has negatively impacted the harness track turned casino.

But here are the facts.

The owners of the harness track have seen their profits GROW in recent years.

If you look at the reports filed with the New York State Gaming Commission, gaming profits in Saratoga have increased by more than $9 million from state fiscal year 2013/2014.

So, if you choose not to compete, but demand a subsidy based on a fear of competition, yet your profits increase, then it is time for sure to revisit the subsidy.

Think about this the next time you are in line for coffee.

If a new coffee shop opens nearby would we require them to pay expenses for their competitor?

Of course not.

The proposed state budget contains a common-sense proposal that suspends the subsidy payments from Rivers to the harness track during the current pandemic.

This is a good start, but a suspension of the subsidy is not enough.

The time is right to look at ending this unfair deal altogether.

The ongoing cost of paying this unneeded subsidy threatens more than 1,000 good-paying jobs at Rivers in Schenectady and the substantial tax revenue generated by Rivers that benefits Schenectady and seven other counties in the Capital Region.

The current health care crisis has forced all of us to rethink the way we operate.

It is time for the harness track subsidy to end.

Gary R. McCarthy is the mayor of the city of Schenectady.

Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

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