Daily Gazette

“New legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday will allow Saratoga Casino and Raceway to give out more free play credits to customers, a move the facility’s operators believe will help it stay competitive in the rapidly evolving landscape of legalized gambling.

The bill approved by the state Legislature in June changes state tax law to increase the annual value of free play allowance credits from 10 percent to 15 percent of the total amount wagered on video lottery games after the payout of prizes. Some racino operators believe the increase will increase business — and revenue for the state — at a time when there’s increased competition for gaming dollars.

“Across the state, the passage of this law will achieve a measurable increase in business, which in turn will result in the generation of considerable more money to support education through the lottery,” said James Featherstonhaugh, minority owner of the racino in Saratoga Springs. “It will make for a more level playing field.”

The bill signed into law Tuesday will also allow the state’s nine racinos to stay open until 6 a.m., though the change isn’t expected to affect operations at the facility in Saratoga Springs. Racino spokeswoman Rita Cox said the changes don’t modify the maximum of 20 hours a facility with video lottery terminals can stay open, so she doesn’t foresee her facility amending its operating hours of 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. anytime soon.

“We’ don’t anticipate staying open later at this point,” she said. “We’ll continue to listen to our customers, and if that becomes something that is desired, then we’ll consider it.”

The increased free play will, however, have an impact on the racino, Cox said. With full casinos operating in surrounding states and a facility with live table games expected to open in the Capital Region by 2016, she said it’s important for the racino to have the ability to draw more customers with promotions.

“This will be great for business,” she said. “It’ll allow us to be much more competitive, at least in the Northeast, which is getting increasingly more competitive.”

The racino issued $15.47 million in free play credits among the $2.07 billion wagered between April 2013 and March of this year. Over the past three months, the racino has doled out $4.18 million in free credits among $546.3 million waged at the facility.

Across the state, New York’s racinos gave out $188.4 million in credits between April 2013 and March of this year. Gamblers wagered $32.34 billion during that same period.

New York’s racinos have been in a slump this year, which some blamed on a particularly frosty winter. But the slump has continued into the summer, leading some operators to wonder what will happen to the racinos once the state Gaming Commission awards the first of four casino licenses.

“The slump, now well into its eighth month, is the worst in VLT history,” wrote Gary Greenburg, a minority owner at Vernon Downs Casino, in an email last week. “Layoffs and less racing purses may soon come into play as a result of poor VLT revenue across the state.”

Cox said business at the racino in Saratoga Springs is starting to pick up, especially since the meet at Saratoga Race Course began last week. Though the winter was down, she said the racino is now starting to see gains.

“We’re showing growth right now,” she said.”