Las Vegas-style casino gambling could mean big payouts for Capital Region counties and the community selected to host one of four upstate gaming resorts, according to an analysis released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Division of Budget.
The analysis projected an estimated annual fiscal impact of $35.4 million for the eight-county area, including a $11.4 million payout to be split between the host community and county. Saratoga County and Saratoga Springs — where a video lottery terminal casino is already located — are considered favorites to receive one of the gaming resorts if New York voters approve a referendum during November’s election.
Overall, the budget division estimates the state could receive $430 million in additional annual revenue if the referendum is approved. This money would be split between $238 million for education or property tax relief across state and $192 million that would go directly to local governments for discretionary spending.
These estimates are based on an average of the different siting scenarios possible, with the methodology for estimated revenues reflecting factors such as proximity to population centers, regional income variations, potential impacts on existing VLT facilities and the applicable tax rates in the gaming regions. The estimates also include revenue from two new downstate VLT facilities expected to achieve results roughly similar to one existing at Yonkers Raceway.
The Capital Region’s largest counties would receive the lion’s share of the funding, according to the budget division, with Albany County landing the most, about $6.07 million in total aid. Saratoga County would land the second-most at $4.63 million.
Were a casino to be located at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, as some are projecting, Saratoga County would get only $2.2 million for school aid and property tax relief, not the full $4.63 million, but it also would split $11.4 million with Saratoga Springs.
“Those are very positive numbers, and it would have a very positive effect on Saratoga County if we were chosen as a host community,” said Alan Grattidge, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors. “That would bode very well with the county and the city going forward.”
Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan agreed, but was more muted in her optimism. Though she would welcome the funding, she questioned what impact a Las Vegas-style casino would have on the city and whether the amounts outlined by the budget division would be static.
City leaders struggled to contend with the loss of $3.3 million in annual VLT revenue when the state refused to provide it in 2009 and 2010. The city has since been getting $1.82 million of the revenue each year.
“Every year when I’m doing the budget, I’m thinking ‘Are they going to give it to us next year?’ ” Madigan said of the VLT revenue. “Are we going to end up in a similar situation with this aid?”
There’s also a question whether the budget division’s revenue estimates are accurate. Some estimates discussed during a casino forum hosted in Saratoga Springs in August suggested the state’s share of revenue would be more in the range of $150 million annually.
E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy said the figures offered by the budget division add up to only about 1 percent of total state school aid in New York. He also questioned the methodology used by the state to arrive at the estimates.
“I think [$430 million] may be on the high side,” he said in an email Wednesday, “but in the absence of more detailed analysis, it’s hard to say.”