Times Union

At a time when anti-casino advocates here seem to grab much of the spotlight, longtime employees of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway gathered Tuesday to share their stories, saying gaming simply provides good jobs and stability for local families.

Roughly a dozen racino workers assembled at the Saratoga Springs Recreation Center to say adding card games, craps and roulette wheels wouldn’t doom the Spa City with debauchery, but would rather offer more opportunities for steady employment and profits for local shops and restaurants.

The employees said they were speaking out in response to last week’s City Council meeting, at which several people opposed to gaming expansion urged council members to make sure a new or expanded “Las Vegas-style” casino is distant from Saratoga Springs. The workers who attended the meeting said they took the anti-casino comments personally.

“Hearing over and over and over again that my job was not a quality job, that my job didn’t matter or that I didn’t matter really became very personal,” said Kathleen Anderson, the racino’s director of entertainment. Anderson, who has been working at the casino and raceway for a decade, said her job enabled her to put her two daughters through private college as a single parent while also offering annual raises, bonuses and benefits. Both Anderson’s daughters worked at the raceway during summer break from college as well, Anderson said.

The venue employes 630 people. A full casino would add another 600 to 700 jobs, the racino has said.

Asked what the new jobs would pay, racino officials refused to specify salaries, but they told reporters the jobs would range from dishwasher and cooks to accountants and managers.

Other businesses would benefit too, the racino said.

The casino and raceway workers, including a handful of young mothers holding children in their arms, said adding more gaming options to a casino or bringing in a new one would not lead to more crime or blocks of bright lights similar to those in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

“I don’t think it will be any different than it is now,” said Charlie Hoffman, a 90-year-old casino and raceway worker who has worked at the track for 68 years. Hoffman said arguments years ago against allowing video lottery terminals at the casino, the only gaming other than horse wagering currently permitted there, mirrored the ones he hears today. “They were talking about prostitution and violence and all that back then, and it hasn’t happened.”

On Nov. 5, voters statewide approved a referendum allowing casino gambling, but Saratoga Springs residents opposed it with 58 percent of the vote. The racino here is applying for one of the four upstate licenses that will be awarded by the state.

In a news release, the anti-casino group Saratogians Against Vegas-Style Expansion (SAVE) characterized Tuesday’s gathering of racino workers as a “cynical public relations ploy” by the racino’s public relations firm.

“Using their own employees to make their case for large-scale expansion of casino gambling in Saratoga Springs is a shameless of exploitation of their workers,” SAVE member Sara Boivin said.

If Saratoga Springs were to be bypassed for one of the four casinos in favor of a nearby city, the workers said the ripple effect would not only mean less money for the local economy, but potential job loss as well.

“If (anti-casino advocates) think that a casino being built 30 miles down the or road 40 miles down the road is not going to affect Saratoga Springs, they’re ridiculous,” Anderson said. “It is going to impact Saratoga, because we’re going to have competition.”