The argument for non-Indian casino gambling in New York has expanded to highlight the $1.3 billion in education aid the state’s nine racetrack casinos could generate.
In a series of radio and Internet advertisements that began airing this week across the state, the New York Gaming Association, which represents the nine racinos, is promoting the role its members play in funding education and the potential expansion of this contribution with live-table casino gambling. Currently, with only video lottery terminals, the racinos were responsible for about $667 million of the more than $20 billion the state spent on education in the recently enacted budget.
The education contribution is based on a preset funding formula, which requires the operators of VLTs to contribute about 47 percent of the money lost by gamblers. Since 2004, the state’s VLT operators have raised $3.15 billion for education spending.
At the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, the education percentage was slightly above 48 percent, with $74.9 million contributed for the fiscal year that ended in March. This allocation was about $21 million more than the site generated in its first full year of operation seven years ago.
“The point is to spread awareness,” said Rita Cox, vice president of marketing for the Saratoga racino. “New Yorkers need to understand the incredible impact we have on education. Basically, we’re responsible for 10,000 teacher salaries.”
There are two different radio advertisements, and both highlight the property tax burden they relieve by paying for education costs. One ad notes that more than 9,000 average teacher salaries could be paid for by their current contribution, and both ads predict that non-Indian casino gambling would fund more than 18,000 average teacher salaries.
Both ads describe the casino expansion as a “jackpot for New York schools.”
New York Gaming Association President James Featherstonhaugh said his members were proud of their role in funding education and felt that the general public either didn’t know about this or simply didn't understand how significant their contributions was.
“The purpose of these ads is just to remind people that the raceway casinos are valuable contributors to the state and the communities,” he said.
Featherstonhaugh added that the ads are also part of their plan to warm people to the idea of non-Indian casino gambling in the state. As a referendum approaches on this issue, he predicted his group would “speak up loudly” on the issue.
In the past fiscal year, the nine racinos also contributed $26 million in aid to local governments, including $500,000 to Saratoga Springs and $1.5 million to Saratoga County.
The job estimates in the ad are based on live-table gambling at the nine racinos and continuing the 47 percent contribution rate, according to Featherstonhaugh. If live-table gambling is adopted at non-Indian casinos, though, it will not be at nine locations, with a constitutional amendment advanced this spring by the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo only allowing for seven locations. The amendment still needs to be passed again in the next legislative session, then approved in a statewide referendum.
Cox added that there will be more advertisements to follow in the future and said it is possible they’ll do some advertising on their property in Saratoga Springs.
Read the full text of the radio advertisements on The Gazette’s political blog, Capital Region Scene, at DailyGazette.com.