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Casino Opponents Organize In Saratoga Springs

Lucas Willard

Hundreds of individuals from Saratoga Springs and the surrounding communities packed city hall at the first meeting of SAVE Saratoga – a group formed to oppose bringing a full-size resort casino to the Spa City. 

What initially started as a Facebook group created over the summer in opposition to the New York ballot question that allows up to seven Las Vegas-style gambling casinos in the state has morphed into an organized group with a petition against casino expansion, various committees, and a mission to reach out into the community.  

The proposal, which passed on election day, means host counties and cities would receive the lion’s share of the proceeds from each of the casinos. Saratoga Springs has been viewed as potential location, already home to gambling at Saratoga Race Course and the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which is moving forward with a $30 million expansion and is expected to place a bid for a casino license.

An appointed siting panel will select proposals from developers in a decision that will focus mainly on economic impact, and 20 percent of the decision will hinge on community support.

However, on election day, 57 percent of Saratoga Springs residents and 54 percent of county residents rejected Prop 1.

SAVE Saratoga core member Colin Klepetar said, "The casinos, if they're going to come here, they need to show they have the support of the public. And tonight it shows the public doesn't want it here."

Earlier this month, Saratoga Springs supervisor Matthew Veitch postponed a vote by the board of supervisors scheduled for Nov 14th that would have allowed an expansion of casino gaming at the Casino and Raceway due to the opposition among the community shown at the ballot box.

At the SAVE Saratoga meeting, attendees were given the chance to sign a petition citing their position to be brought to elected officials, and also were able to sign up for several committees within the group.

Core member Sarah Boivins said, "This is our call to action - the tables all represent different things people can do to get in front of their elected officials, appointed officials, in front of the media, write letters, be part of a Facebook or Twitter campaign, get people involved because all the boots on the ground we can get."

Volunteers signed up for committees that will focus on neighborhood and event canvassing, media outreach, and other areas.

Saratoga Springs resident Bob Lippman signed up to volunteer within the political action committee.

"I'm wondering whether we can pass some sort of local moratorium on casino gambling  or whether there's some other action we can take as a city to preserve the quality of we have here."  

Lippman said he had participated in citizens movements in Saratoga Springs in the past, but said no cause drew such a large crowd as SAVE Saratoga.

"I've never seen an outpouring like this before," said Lippman. "I'm very encouraged by it and I hope it sustains and grows."

Supporters of casino development in New York have pointed to its potential to assist in lower property taxes,aiding schools, and creating jobs. The first four casinos will be built in the Capital Region, Catskills, and Southern Tier regions. 

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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