State Gaming Commission officials released the eagerly anticipated request for applications for casino licenses Monday and the first pages of it appear to knock Saratoga Springs out of contention as a potential casino site.
The 80-page document outlining the licensing process specifically indicates a prospective casino operator must have a resolution of support passed by the legislative body from the host community sometime after the gaming legislation was approved by state voters in November. Rob Williams, the commission’s acting executive director, said an applicant failing to have local support won’t even be reviewed.
“If [support] is not evidenced, your application will not be received,” he explained during a meeting of the commission’s gaming facility location board Monday.
Once considered a front-runner for one of four licenses being offered by the state, Saratoga Springs now appears to be at the bottom of a growing list of sites being considered for a casino. The Saratoga Casino and Raceway — a harness racing track featuring more than 1,700 video lottery terminals — has maintained a strong interest in submitting an application to add live table games at the sprawling facility.
But the idea of having live table games in the city is being met with strong opposition from a number of residents and business owners who fear adding a resort-style casino could negatively impact downtown Saratoga Springs. Members of the City Council last month unanimously adopted a non-binding resolution indicating they would not support a casino under the conditions laid out by the state law adopted by referendum in November.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who crafted the resolution, said the onus is now on the racino operators to win over their critics. She said her prior discussions with the commission all indicated license applicants would need to show evidence of local support.
“From what I understand, it is the responsibility of the applicant through the application process to garner the support from the community,” she said in an email after the RFA was released. “So far that hasn’t happened.”
James Featherstonhaugh, a minority owner of the racino, could not be reached for comment. Racino spokeswoman Rita Cox said the RFA is now being reviewed and couldn’t say what the company’s next step will be moving forward.
“There’s a lot of information and a lot of things to go through,” she said. “We need to do a full review of everything that was issued today before we make a decision.”
The RFA adopted by the commission and location board requires all prospective applicants to participate in a conference April 30. The deadline for applications was set for June 30, with presentations set for sometime in late July and a final decision on licenses to be issued during the “early fall.”
Each applicant must pay a $1 million fee, which will go toward the state’s in-depth background investigation of the potential operator. The state will refund only that portion of the fee that isn’t used during the investigation and reserves the right to bill applicants for its costs in excess of $1 million.
The application process is expected to generate massive volumes of information. The gaming facility license application form alone is 52 pages long; applicants also need to fill out 89 pages of documentation for personal disclosure.
As many as four casinos will be licensed in upstate New York, one each in three regions, one of which is the Capital Region. Operators chosen will pay a $50 million licensing fee. The RFA does not lay out the minimum capital investment expected from potential operators, but commission officials indicated this figure will be announced in the coming days.
“This RFA was designed to attract bidders who are committed to realizing the highest impact and best value to New York state, the applicable region and host locality,” said Stuart Rabinowitz, one of three seated members of the facility location board. “The measures and metrics contained within it are comprehensive and realistic and bring with it a commitment to integrity and responsible public policy.”
As promised in the initial gaming legislation, the largest deciding factor for choosing the sites will be the economic impact. The board will base 70 percent of its decision on factors such as capital investment, job creation and the ability of an applicant to bring a world-class operation to the site.
Local support will account for 20 percent of the decision, according to the RFA. Applicants are asked to demonstrate support from a variety of sources other than the local government.
“In weighing local support and opposition under this criteria, the board will consider public statements and declarations, letters or resolutions from the host municipality, nearby local governments, private organizations, community, religious and civic groups, charitable organizations, entertainment venues, chambers of commerce, local businesses, labor organizations, [et cetera],” the RFA states.
The final 10 percent of the decision will be based on so-called workforce enhancement factors. Applicants are urged to show how a project will provide a workforce development plan utilizing the existing labor force.
Since the gaming legislation passed last fall, potential sites for casinos have cropped up throughout the Capital Region. Potential sites range from 330 acres above Howe Caverns in Schoharie County to 60 acres of riverfront land at Galesi Group’s Alco site in Schenectady.
Some sites have already landed the local support element required to submit an application. U.W. Marx Construction’s 24-acre riverfront development at DeLaet’s Landing in Rensselaer already has resolutions of support for a casino from the city and the county Legislature.
For months, casino operators have expressed interest in the project. The site is a short distance away from Interstate 787 and the Capital Region’s main passenger rail hub.
“We’re not going to comment [on the RFA] yet,” said Peter Marx, the company’s president. “We’re going to let things unfold right now. We have to absorb everything.”
Another project on the outskirts of Albany appears close to gaining the first local support it needs to apply for a license. Capital District OTB and Rochester developer David Flaum are pitching a $300 million casino and resort off Thruway Exit 23 that was well-received by several local officials, including Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.
The proposal includes a 63,000-square-foot casino, 275-room resort-style hotel and 40,000-square-foot indoor water park. Patrick McCarthy, a spokesman for the project, was encouraged by the RFA released Monday and looks forward to rolling out the proposal during the application process.
“We obviously very excited for the next phase to begin,” he said.