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New York's Existing Gambling Venues Prepare For Casinos

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After this month’s announcement of three casinos now closer to being built in New York, officials from existing gambling operations are preparing for increased competition in a changing gaming landscape.

With casino gambling ever closer in the region, New York’s racinos, facilities that offer live horse racing with video lottery gaming, are preparing for the future.

Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs had hoped to open two separate full-size casinos. In the Capital Region, the company lost a bid in a partnership with Churchill Downs for a proposal in East Greenbush. In the Hudson Valley, the company also pushed for a project in Orange County.

With the bids going elsewhere, the company is still moving forward with a $30 million expansion to its Saratoga Springs racino that includes a hotel, only 25 miles away from Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, which would open in 2016 after getting the green light from the gaming commission’s facility location board.

Saratoga Casino and Raceway spokeswoman Rita Cox said she expects the nearby facility will have an impact on video gambling revenues.

"Our task over the next two years is to really make sure that we are in the best possible position to be able to compete with this new facility that will be in the region," said Cox. "Our hotel moving forward is critical to that so we can be continue to provide increased amenities to our guests."

However, Cox said racing will be less negatively affected. The harness racetrack has existed nearby the Saratoga Race Course thoroughbred track for decades.

“Racing in Saratoga stands alone. It is one of tourist attractions that has made Saratoga basically the best, most well known destination in the Northeast and beyond. We don't expect there to be an impact on racing at all."

New York Racing Association Board Member Charles Wait, of Saratoga Springs, was not available for an interview Wednesday, but told The Saratogian newspaper earlier this month he felt the arrival of a Schenectady casino will have less of an impact on the flat track."

“For Saratoga, the entertainment at our racetrack is as much about the sport as it is about the gambling,” said Wait.

Mike Kane, a longtime racing journalist, said if gambling dollars are diverted from the racinos, it could have an impact on racing through the programs supported by VLT funds.

“If gambling dollars go away from them and go into the casinos, the money that comes out of those racinos and goes into the racing industry to fund purses and the breeding and development fund, and things of that nature, would be adversely impacted. So it's all about the money, as usual."

Kane said racing officials in the western part of the state, including at the Finger Lakes Casino & Racetrack, which heavily features New York-bred horses, are concerned about the arrival of more casino gambling….

"If Finger Lakes Racecourse is adversely affected by that casino by what we call the western part of the state, that could lower the purses, affect the breeding business, and make those horses less attractive."

Jeff Gural, an owner of Tioga Downs, had sought a full-scale casino license for his facility in Nichols in the state’s Southern Tier. Also an owner of Vernon Downs in Oneida County, Gural told The Saratogian a new Oneida Indian owned casino in neighboring Seneca County threatens the future of Vernon Downs.

Oneida County is home to the Turning Stone Resort and Casino. Anthony Picente, Oneida County Executive, said a Seneca County casino could potentially “cluster” the casino landscape.

"We'll deal with it, and we're confident that Turning Stone will remain and has been at the forefront of casinos in New York state and in the Northeast, and have a great venue and continue to expand. So while we're concerned, we're confident that we'll remain at number 1."

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his support in a letter to New York’s casino siting board for another Southern Tier casino license, which would be the fourth to join the field.

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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