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Casino Operator Looks Beyond Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Casino and Raceway

Wednesday marks the deadline for casino developers in New York to submit their application fees to bid for a full-scale casino license. A casino operator in Saratoga Springs is now looking to build south of the Spa City.

The Saratoga Casino and Raceway announced this week that it would abandon plans to build a full-scale casino at its location in the Spa City that is home to its harness race track and VLT games.

The announcement came just one day before casino operators in New York were due to submit a $1 million application fee to the state.

Following months of contentious debate, Saratoga Casino and Raceway spokeswoman Rita Cox said the company decided to pursue development on a parcel located off Route 4 in East Greenbush, across the river from Albany.

"It was clear that the community was not going to be able to support the scale of a project that is going to be required to successfully win the bid for the casino license in the Capital Region, so it made sense to find the best location we could find," said Cox.

By the time New York’s casino gambling law was approved by voters in November, opposition to an expanded casino in Saratoga Springs had already begun organizing. After the law was approved, both pro-and anti-casino groups began fierce campaigns, packing into city council meetings, distributing t-shirts, and attracting hundreds of members. Business owners, entertainment venues, and hotel operators all expressed their opinions either for or against casino expansion.

In March, Saratoga Springs’ city council passed a resolution proposed by Mayor Joanne Yepsen against New York’s casino gambling law.

At the March meeting, Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco, who had proposed a measure against casino expansion in Saratoga Springs, said among his many concerns is that the expansion of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway would bring in “unregulated development.”

"We cannot open the door to the type of unchecked and unregulated development casino interests would bring," said Scirocco. "Development that does not fit within the comrephensive plan."

According to the state gaming commission’s casino request for applications, applicants must have the support of their local governing bodies. Sara Boivin, a co-founder of SAVE Saratoga, the group against expansion at the raceway, said the racino’s plans to open a 100,000-square foot facility in East Greenbush shows a casino would not fit the interests of those in Saratoga Springs.

"It proves that this was not going to be a modest project," said Boivin. "That this was always about chasing the money, it was always about the big gambling industry, and it was never going to be about a fit for Saratoga. And I think that this really speaks volumes to that fact."

Meanwhile, the East Greenbush town board recently approved a measure in support of casino gambling.

The $300 million project in East Greenbush would include a 300-room resort hotel, 20,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants, a sports bar, and a showroom.

Cox said the Casino and Raceway has already purchased the land located between Exits 8 and 9 of Interstate 90, and that the location would be the best location in the Capital Region. Rochester-based casino developer David Flaum has proposed plans to built a resort-style casino across the river in Albany at Exit 23. 

Cox said the planned project would allow the existing facility in Saratoga and new facility in East Greenbush to offer flexibility to workers.

"The two facilities can work together. We've got a base of hundreds of employees that can get us on the ground and working quickly, and we've got customers who we've developed strong relationships with over our decade-plus of operating a casino in this region that can help make sure that both facilities can do the best they possibly can," Cox.

Cox said the location would also keep gambling dollars in New York, and could attract customers from nearby Massachusetts. Casino developer MGM is expected to receive a license to build a sizable project in downtown Springfield.

The owners of Saratoga Casino and Raceway are also pursuing a project on a 72-acre parcel in Newburgh at Route 17K, near the intersections of Interstates 84 and 87. The operators will share their plan at a town board meeting scheduled for Thursday evening.

For more information visit: http://www.saratogacasino.com/Libraries/Enzo_s_Images/East_Greenbush_April_22.sflb.ashx

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