Opponents of legalized table gambling are now focusing their efforts on preventing a Las Vegas-style casino from locating in Saratoga Springs.
A group of eight community organizers with support from roughly 300 residents from around the city and Saratoga County are launching a campaign to oppose the development of a casino with table games. Saratogians Against Vegas-style Expansion aims to present an opposition perspective to those advocating for one of the state’s four casinos to be located at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway or anywhere else in the county.
Colin Klepetar, a city resident and math teacher in the Ballston Spa Central School District, points to the majority of county and city voters who opposed the state referendum last week as evidence a sizeable number of residents aren’t convinced a casino is a good idea for the area. About 57 percent of city voters and roughly 54 percent of county residents opposed the legalization of casino gambling last week.
At a glance
SAVE Saratoga has scheduled its first public meeting for 7 p.m. Monday in the City Council room at City Hall on Broadway. The meeting is expected to last two hours.
Klepetar said the discussion leading up to the referendum centered around lowering taxes and creating jobs. Now, he believes the focus should be on how a casino could affect the city and what unintended consequences could result.
“We’re looking at the real implications of bringing a casino into our town,” he said.
The concern among some residents of the city is that a full-scale casino could start to drain some of the livelihood out of downtown. With the racino already planning an expansion that includes a 120-room hotel and 20,000 square feet of event space, some believe table gaming will make the racino a self-contained facility that will draw traffic that would otherwise visit businesses downtown.
“Casino gambling is a single destination type of endeavor,” said Tony Krackeler, a Saratoga Springs resident who owns an Albany company that distributes scientific products. “They will drive up the Northway, get off at the racino complex, eat there, drink there and gamble there. Then they will get back in their cars and go home.”
The group has already started an online petition drive opposing the location of a casino in the county. The group will host its first meeting at City Hall on Monday, when organizers plan to discuss ways in which to get their message across to local and state lawmakers.
“Frankly, Saratoga doesn’t need an economic engine outside of what we’ve got,” said Krackeler, who is among the group’s organizers.
Of course, there’s nothing saying Saratoga County will get a casino, even though the racino seems like a likely spot for one. Once the gaming legislation becomes law in January, the state Gaming Commission will appoint a five-member board to select the casino locations.
The selection process will require prospective casino operators to submit applications for gaming facility licenses. The four operators will be chosen based on a variety of factors, including how many jobs their proposal anticipates creating, the amount of capital investment planned, the level of revenue expected to be generated for the state and financing availability.
Other lesser factors include the level of local support for a casino, the number of amenities included in the proposal, how the facility will integrate with regional tourism, the experience in gaming development of the operator and the speed with which the project can be constructed. State officials have said all applications will be weighted the same and no one operator has an inside track in landing a casino.
Saratoga County officials were initially planning to pass a resolution in support of attracting a casino. The host county and community will split $11.4 million in state proceeds from table gambling annually, something which has made the prospect of a casino very alluring for municipal entities.
But since the results of the referendum came in, some county officials are tempering their support. Like other members of the county board, city Supervisor Matthew Veitch said he no longer intends to offer a resolution in support of a casino locating in the county or in Saratoga Springs.
“We decided we were going to pull back from passing that resolution because of the way the referendum went down,” said Veitch, who is chairman of the board’s Racing Committee. “We think its best for the county right now to take a deep breath, pull back a bit and wait to see what happens.”
Neither the county nor the city have much control over what happens now. Operators of the racino can submit an application to the state regardless of the support they get from local officials.
“Unfortunately we don’t have any power … to stop them from applying,” he said.