Proctors in Schenectady was closing in on a decision on whether to form a partnership with the Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs last spring when the Saratoga Casino and Raceway made a bombshell expansion announcement.
A two-part feasibility study conducted by Proctors over the winter determined the former Universal Baptist Church — with a potential 800-person capacity — could serve as a niche entertainment facility in the Spa City and help fill the gaps left by other venues around the Capital Region. Then the racino announced an ambitious plan to build a 24,000-square-foot event center as part of a $30 million expansion.
The project was announced as Saratoga Springs appeared to be a logical location for one of three proposed live-table game casinos, pending a state constitutional amendment legalizing Las Vegas-style gambling. Then, when state legislators adopted a plan that all but assured the Capital Region one of the four casinos, Proctors decided to put on hold any decision regarding a collaboration with the hall.
Simply put, November’s referendum and the possibility of having a new entertainment venue in the area leaves too much up to chance. Philip Morris, Proctors’ chief executive officer, fears the establishment of casinos with entertainment facilities will have a notable effect on mid-sized venues like the hall and others throughout the state.
“We have our concerns about the casinos,” he said. “They’ll have an impact on Universal Preservation Hall and other entertainment facilities.”
Now, more than a dozen arts and entertainment venues from across the state are grouping together to call for limitations on casinos that would prevent them from having a negative impact on surrounding facilities. The Coalition for a Fair Game is proposing a series of protections that would limit the capacity of casino-based entertainment venues to 1,000 seats, establish long-term limits on expansion of those facilities, and require casino bidders to reach partnership agreements with each facility within close proximity to establish exclusivity terms, among other things.
The coalition includes a number of area entertainment facilities, including Proctors, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Saratoga City Center, Albany’s Palace Theater and the Times Union Center. The group is planning an announcement Tuesday, just two weeks before voters head to the polls to decide on legalized live table gaming.
The coalition isn’t anti-casino, Morris said. Rather, the group wants to start a discussion about the potential impacts such facilities could have on nearby venues.
Marcia White, SPAC’s executive director, has been vocal about her concerns over the impact the casinos could have on entertainment facilities in the Capital Region. She fears having a competing entertainment and conference center — such as the one proposed at the racino — could create financial problems for existing venues.
“It’s something that our communities should all be aware of,” she said.
Racino executives are of the opinion that the planned expansion and potential for live table games won’t have a negative impact on facilities like SPAC. Earlier this week during a forum on casino gaming in Saratoga Springs, racino director James Featherstonhaugh said the only negative impacts of siting a casino in the Spa City would be the same ones that come with any other major business expansion.
“The big change is it will bring more people into Saratoga who otherwise wouldn’t be here at all,” he told a crowd of about 50 people Monday.
Racino spokeswoman Rita Cox said the venue would look to work with neighboring concert halls, but played down the notion that the proposed 24,000-square-foot “multi-purpose space” would impose a hardship on existing facilities. She said the space would likely attract acts and events that wouldn’t otherwise come to the region.
“Quite frankly, most of the things we’re going to be bringing in are going to be different events with a different appeal,” she said.