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What you need to know for 01/20/2018

Racino operators propose a second casino in Orange County

Racino operators propose a second casino in Orange County

Operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway will hedge their bets by vying for gaming licenses in s

Operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway will hedge their bets by vying for gaming licenses in separate regions of the state.

The racino owners announced some of the details of a $300 million casino proposal for East Greenbush in Rensselaer County on Tuesday, just two days before they are scheduled to present plans for another facility in the Orange County town of Newburgh.

James Featherstonhaugh, the racino’s minority owner, said his company’s intentions are to open casinos in both locations if they are awarded two licenses.

“We have two almost completely separate teams working on [the proposals],” he said. “There is some commonality at some of the leadership levels.”

Featherstonhaugh declined to discuss his proposal for Newburgh — located in what the state Gaming Commission designated as the Hudson Valley-Catskills region — other than to say it’s slated for property near the junction of Interstate 84 and the state Thruway. He said the racino has an option to buy about 70 acres for the casino proposal, which will be outlined further either today or Thursday.

The East Greenbush proposal includes plans for a 100,000-square-foot casino on roughly 130 acres of vacant land along Thompson Hill — a road adjacent to Route 4 and with access from either Exit 8 or Exit 9 on Interstate 90. Also included in the plan are a 300-room hotel, several restaurants, two parking garages, “multiple entertainment venues” and 20,000 square feet of retail space.

The racino owners also have an option on 297 acres located at the Evergreen Country Club about six miles away from the site. Future plans include building a spa and 18-hole championship golf course to incorporate into the casino plan.

The operators say the project would create 1,700 jobs during the construction phase and roughly the same number once it is a “destination resort.” The racino operators estimate the project would generate $35.5 million annually for the Capital Region and an additional $11.4 million for the cash-strapped town of East Greenbush.

More importantly, however, Featherstonhaugh said the project will help stem the tide of New York gamblers headed east into Massachusetts for live table games. He said a casino in East Greenbush would attract Capital Region gamers who might otherwise venture about 80 miles to MGM Resort’s $800 million gambling and entertainment complex slated for downtown Springfield.

“That would take a huge chunk out of the Capital Region market if any of the other sites were selected,” he said.

The racino operators are among a growing list of gaming license suitors paying the $1 million fee, which is due before midnight tonight; the list of companies that submitted the fee will be made public Thursday. Operators are required to pay the fee only once, even if they intend to propose multiple applications.

State Gaming Commission officials will use the fee to pay for lengthy background investigations of each would-be operator. The investigations are not expected to begin until May 15 — five days after the gaming commission identifies the minimal capital investment for each casino proposal — meaning the fee is fully refundable until then for those companies deciding against submitting an application.

The racino isn’t the only player putting efforts into multiple sites. Rochester developer David Flaum, who proposed a $300 million resort near Thruway Exit 23 in Albany, is also part of a $750 million plan being backed by Caesars Entertainment in Orange County.

That means the racino’s applications will be competing with Flaum projects on two fronts. Featherstonhaugh is undaunted by the prospect.

“I think our sites are demonstrably better than his,” he said. “But we’ll see.”

The East Greenbush project was unveiled to a group of casino supporters and workers at the racino in Saratoga Springs late Monday afternoon. The operators announced their intentions to not seek a license for a casino in Saratoga Springs following months of heated debate in the city over whether Vegas-style gaming was appropriate for the racino.

The racino owners always maintained they would pay the $1 million application fee. But they never specified whether they’d embrace the Spa City as a site for their application.

A vocal segment of the city’s residents came out in opposition to plans for a Saratoga casino as soon as the racino owners announced them. Casino opponents were eventually able to garner support for their cause from the five city commissioners, who adopted a resolution many interpreted as opposing a gaming license being issued in Saratoga Springs.

The gaming commission’s request for applications strictly requires prospective operators to get support from host communities to have their proposals considered. The city’s resolution didn’t prohibit the racino from seeking support for an application, but provided a formidable obstacle for the operators to clear before the June 30 deadline for proposals.

In contrast, members of the East Greenbush Town Board unanimously adopted a resolution Thursday supporting the development of a casino and the revenue it could bring to the area. The racino operators closed on the property slated for the casino the following day.

Featherstonhaugh said he wasn’t personally disappointed by the shift to East Greenbush, since that site will be easier to build on. But many of the workers at the racino weren’t happy, he said.

“Many employees and senior executives that have lived up there all their life are very disappointed,” he said.

Others are concerned Saratoga Springs will now have no input into the casino siting process, even though it could still suffer negative impacts from a casino opening in the Capital Region. Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said the city’s rush to judgment has effectively removed it from the siting process.

“We now have absolutely no legal voice,” he said. “Our concerns in Saratoga legally do not factor into the siting of a casino. And yet we know — depending on what types of amenities they have — that [a Capital Region casino] could have negative implications here.”

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