Proponents of bringing live table gaming to the Saratoga Casino and Raceway crowded the City Council meeting Tuesday, imploring the Spa City’s commissioners to support their side or at least remain neutral in the debate.
Supporters addressing the council during its public comment period wore white T-shirts provided to them by Destination Saratoga, the group lobbying to bring table games to the racino. Many acknowledged they work for the racino or are involved with the harness racing industry as they spoke of their fear of what will happen there if a casino is sited outside of Saratoga Springs.
Harness trainer Michael McGivern said the racino has allowed horsemen in the city to move from barely scraping by back before video lottery terminals were brought in to making a decent living today. Like others in his industry, he worries about the impact a casino in another county will have on the business now keeping harness racing vibrant in Saratoga Springs.
“I’m concerned along with the other 1,200 members of the Horseman’s Association that if we don’t get it, the impact would be devastating,” he said.
Others said the local results of the state referendum on casino gambling don’t accurately reflect the will of the people in the city today. City resident Chip Foster said he was among the 57 percent of voters from Saratoga Springs against a ballot initiative to bring casino gaming to four regions in the state.
After the measure passed, however, Foster said his opinion changed. Now he sees bringing table games to the racino as a way to preserve the jobs that exist there today and perhaps add to them.
“Those votes against the referendum should not be construed as support or a lack of support,” he told the council.
The large turnout by Destination Saratoga spilled out of the council chamber and was similar to one orchestrated by casino opponents earlier this month. Saratogians against Vegas-style Expansion — also known as SAVE Saratoga — brought a similar crowd to the council’s meeting, some calling on the commissioners to pass a resolution against bringing live table games to the city.
Destination Saratoga also received support from a pair of former city officials. Former Police Chief Ed Moore, who now works as the racino’s senior security manager, fears a casino going to one of the surrounding counties would drive business away from his employer and ultimately lead to layoffs in its workforce from the bottom up — similar to the ones at the city that prompted him to retire in 2009.
“I don’t want to have to do this again at this place,” he said.
Longtime Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue said the opponents of bringing casino gambling to the city are many of the same critics who complained about the VLTs coming to the city a decade ago. He said their negative forecast missed the mark, and the racino now stands among the city’s portfolio of attractions that bring in visitors year-round.
“This is a successful community because of its diversity, and [casino gambling] is one more attraction to bring here,” he said.
McTygue also reminded the commissioners they will ultimately have little say on where the casino will be cited. The state Gaming Commission’s siting board is expected to select four casinos from licensing applications based on a number of criterion, including the number of jobs expected to be created, the amount of capital investment planned, the level of revenue expected to be generated for the state and financing availability.
Also factoring into the decision will be the level of local support for a casino, the number of amenities, 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. McTygue advised the City Council to remain neutral on the issue and allow the state to make its choice.
“Don’t be fooled,” McTygue told the council. “Let [the gaming commission] choose. … You have nothing to do with it.”