Anne Palamountain worries a casino in Saratoga Springs would bring disaster to Skidmore College.
“No one would want their children to come here,” said Palamountain, a longtime Skidmore booster whose late husband Joseph C. Palamountain once served as president.
Colin Klepetar and Clem Marino hope college students, tourists and families keep coming to Saratoga. That’s why they want to keep a Las Vegas-style gambling operation out of the city and county — and they’re betting community activism can help.
About 250 people crowded the Saratoga Springs City Council conference room and nearby hall corridor Monday night and sided with Klepetar, Marino and their group Saratogians Against Vegas-Style Expansion, “SAVE Saratoga.” The two organizers believe numbers are on their side; about 57 percent of city voters and approximately 54 percent of county residents voted against the legalization of live-table casino gambling in New York state, a referendum that passed on Election Day.
Now Klepetar, Marino and six other core members of SAVE are hoping local residents volunteer to convince friends and neighbors to keep a Vega-style casino out of the county. They want them to contact local politicians. They want them to write letters to newspapers, voicing opposition to any such scenario.
Klepetar, a math teacher at Ballston Spa Middle School, said SAVE is not trying to divide the community. “We’re trying to motivate people,” he told people in the warm conference room on a mild, late autumn night. “We’re going to bring people together.”
People were invited to make brief statements about possible live-table casino operations in the city.
Saratoga Springs attorney Bob Lippman said he was concerned a gambling operation would adversely affect property values and crime in the city — and force an increase in Saratoga’s police budget.
“I just don’t see it as a positive,” he said. “I see it as a net negative for Saratoga Springs.”
Barbara Glaser of Saratoga Springs expressed concern about problems a new casino could cause for Proctors in Schenectady, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and other artistic outlets in the Capital Region. Mario Hepp of Queensbury said he enjoys Saratoga Springs, enjoys casinos and will continue to enjoy both. “For casinos, it won’t be in Saratoga,” he said.
And Douglas Klein of Milton said crime is rising in Saratoga Springs. He also believes stress levels are up, driving and parking in such a crowded city. “I come here as little as possible, it’s not fun anymore” he said. “A casino would only make that much worse.”
Saratoga Springs — and the current Saratoga Casino and Raceway — are not locks for a casino. Once gaming legislation becomes law in January, a five-member board appointed by the state Gaming Commission will select sites for four operations.
The Saratoga Casino and Raceway, or racino, offers 1,700 video gaming machines, including slot machines, video poker and keno. Electronic roulette and electronic craps are also among the diversions offered. The racino does not offer live-table gambling, like that offered in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
Group member Janette Kaddo Marino wants to make sure opposition to to such type of gambling is in place. She hopes casino foes will gather at events like the upcoming Victorian Stroll and Chris Dailey Turkey Trot and share their points of view. “There are thousands and thousands of people who come to these events,” she said. “They will be affected too.”
Some people didn’t speak publicly during the 45-minute session, but explained why they were in attendance.
“I wouldn’t wish casino gambling on any town,” said Saratoga Springs resident Nancy Coleman, adding that voters in other counties voted against the state measure. “Let’s not have it shoved down our throats. The people have spoken.”
Saratogian Rob Wright is also against the glitz, glamor and games. “I think it degrades the culture, the image and the quality of life in Saratoga Springs,” he said. “I think it’s an instant downgrade.”
People were asked to register their names with SAVE and make suggestions.
“We want to get volunteers, get people to sign up,” Clem Marino said. “We want support, we want peoples’ voices to be heard. That’s the key.”
Klepetar, in closing the meeting, urged people to get involved.
“If we sit by and let this happen,” he said, “it’s going to happen.”