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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Saratoga Harness Owners Throw in Towel, Look Elsewhere For Casino Site

Saratoga Casino & Raceway will not pursue a full-fledged casino at their existing site in the city; and that has to be considered a triumph for the democratic process.  Gee, we don't often get to say things like that in New York State, do we?  It's also a tribute to the fervor of the grass-root groups that pressed to ensure that the will of the voters was enforced.  They were relentless in using the decisive 57-43 margin by which the casino referendum was defeated there as a cudgel against a further expansion of gambling.  That margin is even more impressive when you consider the ballot language that almost demanded a vote in favor....Saratogians were having absolutely none of that!  The vote was affirmed by the City Council when it unanimously opposed the state casino law over the lack of local control that it provides.  And there's little doubt that the resolution resounded in Albany when the Gaming Commission clarified that approval by the appropriate local board was mandatory as a condition for a casino.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen said in a statement that the owners of Saratoga    and Raceway "recognized that the majority of our citizens expressed their opposition to a full casino resort in our city." Yepsen noted that the state's new casino law was intended to help economically struggling cities and said Saratoga already has a "thriving downtown, successful city center, two horse race tracks and a wealth of natural beauty and cultural assets." [Associated Press]
However, this does not at all mean that James Featherstonhaugh and his partners at the harness track will not get their casino license.  Jimmy Feathers had been seen scouting possible alternate sites for some time, and now it appears he has landed on one.
"Saratoga Casino and Raceway intends to pursue a bid for a 'destination casino' license in East Greenbush," according to an official statement released today. "We will also continue to operate our successful facility in Saratoga and we will look forward to maintaining our strong partnerships within this community." [Albany Business Journal]
The last sentence is kinda funny because, faced with the opposition from the Saratoga community, the raceway owners' main response was to invoke fear of the consequences of a casino sited elsewhere on the racino and the city.  Since they're reportedly going ahead with their $30 million expansion at the racino, I can only assume that they're not really as concerned as they said they were.  And they raced to take down the website of Destination Saratoga, the raceway-funded group that advocated for the casino, perhaps because they didn't want their partners within this community to remember that, prior to their pivot to East Greenbush, they were saying things like this:
Q: What happens if the casino is built elsewhere in the Capital Region or goes to a developer other than Saratoga Casino and Raceway?

A: If the license for our region is granted to another developer, an out-of-state operator opening a behemoth Las Vegas-style casino in our community is a strong possibility. The residents of Saratoga don’t want that, and neither do we. If the casino goes elsewhere, then Saratoga Springs will not only miss an opportunity to reap the benefits, but our existing tourist attractions will actually be hurt by the competition. Saratoga Casino and Raceway will likely have to reduce its workforce – by as many as 240 jobs – and the City of Saratoga Springs would be in jeopardy of losing up to $700,000 and Saratoga County up to $240,000 annually.
Well, if they weren't flat out lying about how they thought Saratoga would be hurt by the competition, then I guess they don't really care what happens there as long as they are the ones building that casino elsewhere.  And it doesn't seem likely nor logical that they were ever going to cut jobs, considering that they were planning to expand their facility regardless of whether they got the casino.

To me, East Greenbush is little more than a signpost on Route 90 that signals that I have about a half hour to go until Saratoga.  It's across the Hudson, and to the south and east of Albany.  Its town board has already, and unanimously, passed a resolution approving a casino, as has the Rensselaer County Legislature.

“[T]he Town Board joins Rensselaer County and other area communities in declaring support for the siting of a casino in East Greenbush to allow for presentation of proposals that benefit the town and its residents,” the resolution states.

"It's still early, and we are looking to see what details and plans are presented," [town supervisor Keith Langley] stated. “The amount of guaranteed revenue, between $5 million to $7 million annually plus possibly more, would certainly help our Town deal with the financial burdens we inherited.” [Schenectady Gazette]
The process is in its nascent stages, as a specific site has not yet been identified, at least publicly.  The town is about 15 minutes from Exit 23 on the NYS Thruway, where developer David Flaum hopes to build his casino, possibly in partnership with Capital OTB.  Let the games, and the usual tired arguments, begin!
Supporters of the so-called 'E23' casino believe the East Greenbush proposal could galvanize support on the Albany Common Council because of concerns about the city losing the jobs and economic benefits that would otherwise go to East Greenbush.


August Song said...

There are lies, and then, there are damn lies,casino-speak, ne c'est pas?

Nice work, Alan, keeping everyone aware!!!

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