Friday, January 13, 2012
saratoga getting ready to roll the dice again.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Area officials caught a glimpse of Las Vegas-style gambling Thursday, when the owners of Saratoga Casino and Raceway announced plans for a $40 million expansion that would bring dice rolling and poker back to this old gaming city.
Saratoga Harness Racing Inc. wants to add 15,000-square-feet to the casino/harness track for table games like blackjack, roulette and craps. The $40 million project also calls for a 130-room hotel, an event center, additional dining options and, possibly, a parking garage.
The "racino" is partly owned by lobbyist James Featherstonhaugh, who, as president of the New York Gaming Association, is fighting to widen gaming options in nine existing state-run racinos. He said the expansion of Saratoga Casino and Raceway depends on state leaders backing an effort to amend New York's constitution to allow for table games. Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the constitutional amendment, which requires approval from two state legislatures and the voting public.
A full-blown casino with card dealers and pit bosses would attract visitors from outside the Capital Region, and cement the city's status as a destination resort, Featherstonhaugh said.
"I see Saratoga as sort of the Monte Carlo of New York casinos," the Albany attorney said. "It has a wonderfully colored history with gaming and although it's a small city, it's known all over the world."
Thursday's announcement came with an architectural rendering and a shovel-ready date of 2014. Cuomo is reviewing options for expanding gambling in the state. He recently backed a plan to build a $4 billion convention center with money from the Malaysian gaming giant Genting in New York City.
The relatively smaller Saratoga casino expansion would generate 400 permanent new jobs, along with hundreds of additional construction jobs, racino officials said Thursday. Construction would take six to nine months.
Reaction to the proposal was mixed. Everything depends on what changes the governor backs, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus said. While the New York Gaming Association has recommended table games at the state's existing racinos, Cuomo and legislative leaders have not come out with a plan. One concern among local officials is gaming could be permitted to expand to new locations.
"We're holding off until we hear more details," Shimkus said. "Local and county officials should be approached proactively by the governor to make sure whatever is proposed has no harm. There's way too many unknowns."
Jeff Clark, president of the city's Downtown Business Association, said that Saratoga Casino and Raceway officials have provided generous donations toward the DBA's Victorian Streetwalk, an annual celebration held on Broadway, and other not-for-profit organizations.
"But to a degree, it draws business from downtown," Clark said.
A full-fledged casino in Saratoga Springs would not necessarily harm thoroughbred horse racing at Saratoga Race Course, said trainer Rick Violette, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. It could very well help, he said. "The devil is in the details," Violette said.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway became the state's first non-Native American gaming facility on Jan. 28, 2004. It offers wagering on video lottery terminals and harness racing. The Crescent Avenue facility nearly doubled in size to 100,000-square-feet in 2007, when owners built a two-story nightclub and 325-seat food buffet. It now contains 1,790 video lottery terminals. In 2010, the facility expanded its daily hours of operations to 19 from 16.
The site is the second-highest earning racino in the state. At least two million visitors walked its floors and made bets in 2011.
More than $1.5 billion was bet there from April to December last year, according to the state Lottery Division. The racino's net take in fiscal year 2010-2011 was $140.5 million, $69.9 million of which was dedicated to education in the state, according to the Lottery. That's up from the prior fiscal year, which ended at $136.7 million and $67.7 million.
The expansion plans call for a new three-story hotel, to be designed after Broadway's old landmark hotels. Racino officials said Thursday that New York casinos needed to offer a full range of gaming options to compete with neighboring states that allow full-scale casinos. Rita Cox, a senior vice president at Saratoga Casino and Raceway, said she thinks that momentum is behind a change.
But one seasoned Saratoga County political observer who asked not to be identified said state gambling laws would probably never change, at least for years.
"I'd rather comment on the likelihood of American Samoa beating Brazil in the World Cup," the official said.
Reach Dennis Yusko at 454-5353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Racino-betting-big-on-Saratoga-casino-2490225.php#ixzz1jLo6yXfA
pictured here Canfield Casino in Congress Park.