The New York state budget agreed upon this week includes changes to language regarding video lottery terminal gaming facilities.
Over the weekend, lawmakers representing Saratoga County announced that funding from Video Lottery Terminals — effectively video slot machines — will be restored to the county and Saratoga Springs. The city is home to the Saratoga Casino and Raceway.
As part of the state budget process, the amount of local aid communities receive was tweaked.
Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Michelle Madigan said she reached out to Republican State Senators Kathy Marchione and Hugh Farley as well as Democratic State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner after learning from the state budget office that the city would see its VLT host revenues decrease.
“I was told that was the plan was only to receive $1.8 million in VLT funding. Last year we had received $2.3 million. And I had asked why and I was told that last year was a one-time bump-up. And I said I was unaware of that.”
During the budget process, the lawmakers were able to bump the amount back up to $2.3 million. As part of the same deal, Saratoga County will have a restoration of about $166,000, to a total of $775,000.
Madigan said the city relies on the funding to offset rising property taxes and to pay for infrastructure repairs.
“We are not a large city budget. We are $42 million, so you can see that $2.3 million, statistically speaking, is a fair amount of our budget.”
Madigan said there’s a long history of erratic VLT funding. Over the years that number has gone from more than $3 million to zero – when it was cut at the height of the recession in 2009.
Since Madigan took office in 2012, she said the amount of aid to Saratoga Springs has gone from $1.4 million to this year’s $2.3 million.
“We don’t always know how to rely on the funds. We don’t know if we could end up with zero, 1.8, 2.3, 1.4…of course we have a casino coming to Schenectady. We don’t know exactly how that will impact VLT funding, but we do think it to have an impact on it.”
Saratoga Casino and Raceway spokeswoman Rita Cox said as the Rivers Casino and Resort is being constructed in Schenectady, 25 miles away, the Raceway is looking for new ways to stay competitive after its own bid to expand to a full-scale casino fell short.
“That’s certainly something we’re thinking about right now, is making sure that we can offer the most variety of amenities that our customers may be looking for.”
Also included in the state budget is language that would allow VLT parlors like Saratoga Casino and Raceway to have games of skill – games like video poker and blackjack.
Cox said the Racino will bring in the new games that its customers have been asking for for years.
“They’re games that are currently being played by customers are playing when they leave the state, when they go to our competition, whether it’s in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, other states throughout the Northeast and the country, so for us to be able to offer that product that our customers have been asking for is a big step forward for us, and we’re looking forward to having them in our facilities as soon as we can make that happen.”
Until recently, Capital District Off-Track Betting had hoped to establish an Albany-area VLT parlor with 200 machines. Plans floated included a site on Central Avenue and across the river at the site of the denied Hard Rock Casino in Rensselaer.
But the chances of another area VLT parlor were dashed when language was not included in the state budget.
Capital Region OTB President John Signor could not be reached for comment Friday but told the Times Union this week:
“It’s not going to happen this session, so we’re going to push for other changes.”
Signor added that he thought the proposal got farther in New York state government this year than in years past.
Signor had estimated a 200-VLT facility could have generated $4 million.