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Saratoga Residents Question Casino Siting At Community Forum

Lucas Willard

Members of the public met with elected officials and people on both sides of New York’s casino gambling amendment at a community forum Monday night in Saratoga Springs. 

The community conversation hosted by Saratoga Wire included a panel of experts featuring local elected officials, members of the business community, and those in favor and against New York’s proposed casino amendment. Attendees had the opportunity to discuss the potential impacts of bringing a casino into Saratoga Springs region, but it appears many questions about the siting of the casino remain unanswered.

If approved by voters Nov. 5th, the casino amendment would allow up to four casinos in the Catskills, Southern Tier, and Capital Region areas.

This year, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and County Racing Committee have both passed resolutions in unaninmous support of an expansion of casino gambling at Saratoga Casino and Raceway, if Saratoga County is chosen as a viable location in the Capital Region area.

Matthew Veitch, a Republican member of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and head of the Racing Committee, said the county will not take an official position on the casino amendment until after New York voters decide.

"As elected officials I know that we can sometimes influence a vote and I'd rather not do that as a county supervisor," said Veitch. "If it does pass in the state, we want to make sure that it's located at Saratoga Casino and Raceway."

Siting for a casino would be determined largely on potential for economic development. James Featherstonhaugh, of the New York Gaming Association, an industry lobbying group, and part-owner of Saratoga Casino and Raceway said that if the Casino and Raceway — already planning a $30 million expansion — were to become home to a full-size casino, it would bring hundreds of jobs.

"Something in the order of 600 additional, good-paying, primarily union jobs," said Featherstonhaugh.

The state has estimated that a casino would bring in $35.5 million for the eight-county Capital Region. $27.8 M would go toward local governments, while $12.7M would be reserved for school aid.

However, the host county would receive the lion’s share of the money. According to figures cited by County Supervisor and Saratoga Springs mayoral candidate Joanne Yepsen, if Saratoga Springs is selected, $11.4 M of the proceeds would be split between the city and Saratoga County. If another county in the Capital Region is chosen, Saratoga County would only receive $2.4 M.

20 percent of the siting decision would be based on community support. However, it is unclear exactly how that community support would be measured. Lynn Whittle, a resident of Saratoga Springs, shared some of her concerns.

"Initially when I started reading about the referendum it seemed very clear that we as a host community were going to have a yay or nay vote about whether or not a casino would be sited here, and as I just heard the answers in this meeting this evening, that's clearly not the case," said Whittle. "It seems as though its going to be left up to our elected officials and to me it seems like the fix is in."

Veitch said at the forum that community support would very likely be determined through a vote at the county level. Veitch said it’s possible more informational sessions would be held in the future for the public to weigh-in on the siting issue after the referendum vote.

"We did want to see the local control in there, and although that was not in the final bill, we are going to plan on doing something very something in the future with that," said Veitch.

Robb Smith, Executive Director of Interfaith Impact of New York State and a member of the Coalition of Gambling in New York, said that because gambling already exists in Saratoga, also home to the iconic flat track, the arrival of a casino could have less of a negative impact than in other areas. He gave his predictions for an area without gambling, including predominantly rural Columbia and Greene Counties.

"The casino down there is going to produce a lot of low-wage jobs," said Smith. "Those jobs do not pay the property taxes, they don't pay the school taxes, and there's going to be a lot of...economic problems as a result, so when you talk about siting it really depends on where it is."

Currently, the New York State Gaming Commission has four appointed members and has yet to assemble a siting committee.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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