Local state legislators want the state’s voters to know where any state-sanctioned casinos would be located before voting on a pro-gambling constitutional amendment — and they think Saratoga Springs should be one of the casino sites.
Two Republican assemblymen and state Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, on Monday announced they’ve introduced legislation to make the casino site selection process open — something Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not endorsed.
“It’s very important that we bring sunshine into the casino site selection process,” Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, said at a news conference outside City Hall. “If the public is going to vote on this, they should know what they’re voting on.”
He’d like them to be voting on Saratoga as one of the sites. If gambling is legalized, there’s widespread local support for having a full-fledged casino in the city. It would probably be at the existing Saratoga Casino and Raceway on Crescent Avenue, which already has video lottery terminal gambling.
“It’s a bipartisan effort. We think this is the proper site,” said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, R-Charlton.
The Casino Gaming Transparency Act is being introduced as the state Legislature prepares to consider voting for a second time on a constitutional amendment to allow full commercial gambling in the state. Its sponsors include Jordan, Marchione and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville,
The Legislature last year approved an amendment that would legalize limited casino gambling, but must pass it again this year before it can go before the public in a yes-no referendum this November.
Cuomo, who supports the amendment, wants the casino locations to be selected by an independent gaming commission. He has proposed that the first three casinos be located somewhere upstate, but has offered nothing more specific than that. His office said Monday he opposes the proposed Casino Gaming Transparency Act.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said Cuomo’s approach would keep legislative politics out of the process.
“This legislation would codify favoritism and just like the last time the Legislature had a role in selecting a gaming operator, would be an invitation for political insiders to win at the expense of every day New Yorkers,” he said. “The governor’s plan takes the politics out of the process and will have the winning bids selected on their actual merits.”
Arguing in favor of the amendment, Cuomo contends New York should legalize casinos because several surrounding states have legal casinos, and New York residents are spending their gambling money in those states instead of in New York.
Siting speculation has focused on Niagara Falls and the Catskills as two of the possible regions, with Saratoga Springs being one of the other possibilities. The county Board of Supervisors and the Saratoga Springs City Council have both approved resolutions supporting the city’s selection.
“We are united,” county Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, D-Saratoga Springs, said at the news conference. “This is an extremely important local economic issue for us, but also means tremendous revenue for New York state.”
The Casino Gaming Transparency Act would require that full table gaming be brought to facilities that already have VLTs before any new casinos are built. There are currently nine racetracks in the state with VLTs.
A portion of profits from new casinos would be directed to support the thoroughbred horse racing industry, under the proposal.
That ties in with the local belief that the county’s agricultural economy is closely tied with the fortunes of horse racing, at both the Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Saratoga Race Course.
“I want communities like Saratoga Springs, who are eager and shovel-ready for these projects, given first consideration and protection in the process establishing casinos in New York,” said Jordan, who is part of the Assembly’s minority leadership.
Local officials have generally been pleased with the activity at the Casino and Raceway, which has had harness horse racing for decades and VLT gambling since 2004.
“Open and transparent government dictates disclosure of gaming sites prior to asking voter approval in November. How else can voters be asked to reasonably decide?” said Mayor Scott Johnson.
The equine industry is estimated to have a $4.2 billion annual effect on New York’s economy, creating 33,000 jobs, said Jeff Cannizzo, executive director of New York Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.
Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Casino and Raceway and related businesses combined employ more than 3,000 people and generate nearly $250 million in annual economic activity, according to a local economic study.