By R.J. DeLuke
Saratoga Casino and Raceway will be “aggressively
bidding” to become one of the four
new resort-style casinos the state will be building
over the next couple of years, according to
its senior vice president of marketing.
Rita Cox said officials at the facility in the
south end of Saratoga Springs “are very excited
about the opportunity” to land the project,
which proponents say will bring significant
sums of tax revenue to Saratoga County in the
years to come.
Voters across the state on Nov. 5 approved
an amendment to the New York Constitution
that would allow the development of seven
such casinos, starting with four upstate. One
is planned for the Capital Region, which many
believe could end up in Saratoga Springs.
While 57 percent of the voters approved
the proposition, most people voted “no” in
Washington, Warren and Saratoga counties.
Negative votes on the issue were 53.7 percent in Saratoga County, 51 percent in Warren County, 50.3 percent in Washington County. Still, the vote tallies will have little to do with the siting of a casino.
Many, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, view the casino business as a boon to the economy, bringing in money and jobs that are currently going to other regions with casinos.
According to the constitutional amendment, the Gaming Commission will appoint a five-member Location Board. The board has 90 days to issue a request for proposals (RFP) from potential casino operators. The board will decide which sites within each region actually get a casino.
Cox said the Casino and Raceway is waiting to see the RFP and will then develop its formal bid. She said the time frame is yet to be determined, hinging on when the location board is named. State officials have said that could be as soon as January-and when the RFP is sent out.
According to State Division of Budget projections, the total statewide fiscal impact of casino gaming is estimated to be $430 million annually. Funds are required to be used for additional school aid, property tax relief, and local government aid. Budget officials have projected that Saratoga County would see an estimated $2.2 million annually for school aid and $2.4 million in property tax relief.
“There’s certainly still a long way to go on this,” said Todd Garafano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau. “Saratoga is not guaranteed to be awarded a site as part of the process that still has to happen. Having said that, should Saratoga be chosen as the host in the Capital Region, whether it be an expansion at the Saratoga Casino & Raceway, or a new facility, we will view it as another asset or attraction that we can market and build upon our offering as a year-round global destination.”
“Having attractions that can attract business to our destination outside of racing season allows our hotels, restaurants and shops the opportunity to keep folks working, contribute to the tax base and keep Saratoga alive and vibrant all year long,” he said.
“In general the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County supports initiatives that will improve the business climate and create jobs,” said Peter Bardunias, president and CEO of that organization. “However this is a complex issue and the Chamber has not taken a position specifically on the development of a casino in the Capital Region.”
He added, “We support jobs. If Saratoga is chosen as a site, I am hopeful that it will allow more local residents to find good quality jobs and attract more tourists to the region. In southern Saratoga County, our main focus remains on our central role in the new Tech Valley manufacturing revolution.”
“The passage of Proposal One is a big win for local governments, school districts, and taxpayers across New York state,” said Cuomo when vote results came in. “This vote will keep hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year in neighboring states right here in New York, while increasing revenue for local schools, lowering property tax taxes, and bringing proper regulation to the industry. ”
The governor said going forward with casinos “will further pave the way for the creation of new jobs, construction, and increased tourism in communities across the state.”
Under a plan passed by the state Legislature prior to the amendment, the first four casinos will be slated for three parts of the state — the Catskills, Southern Tier and Capital Region. The areas will have gambling exclusivity for seven years.
At a press conference announcing a recordsetting 2013 for tourism dollars during the 150th anniversary season of Saratoga Race Course, Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said in order to continue the economic successes in Saratoga, community leaders can’t be complacent. “We need to make sure we are looking for ‘the next big thing.’ We can’t assume everyone is going to know how great Saratoga is. We need to keep working a it and show there are more reasons to visit.”
Asked if a casino fit that bill, he noted “it could be.” But there is a lot to look at before that issue is decided, he cautioned.
He noted entities like SPAC, Skidmore College, the City Center, NYRA and others will have their thoughts and opinions solicited and hopefully a plan will be developed “so that it’s a win-win for everybody … It’s incumbent on any casino operator to show that this makes sense and their proposal is going to be a win for the community. There’s no doubt about that.”
To that end, the Chamber is hosting a factfinding roundtable presentation on casino gambling at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16, at the Saratoga Springs City Center. It will feature a panel of experts on all facets of the issue and those in the community that would be impacted. They will discuss a variety of issues related to casinos and gambling.
There is also an opposition group in the county, opposed to gambling, and they are making their concerns known to state officials. New York state, however, does not require approval through local referendums for siting of the casinos.
In May, Saratoga Casino & Raceway officials announced a $30 million project that was to be started regardless of the November vote. It includes a 120-room hotel with guest spa, indoor pool and lobby bar, a 24,000 square-foot, multi-purpose event center, and a signature fine dining restaurant. If it becomes a full-scale casino, it would expand further with games such as poker, roulette, blackjack and craps that are staffed by live dealers.
Cox said regardless where the state decides to build resort-style casinos, Saratoga Casino and Raceway is moving ahead with its expansion plans. Design work is already under way and ground will be broken in the spring, with the target date of late spring 2015 for opening of the expanded facilities.