7/6/16 – The Saratogian

The new Saratoga Casino Hotel has created jobs for more than 100 people and one horse, named Harley.

The large Clydesdale will take guests to and from Saratoga Race Course during the upcoming thoroughbred season in a gleaming black Victorian-era carriage.

Driven by Harley’s owner, Troy Bapp of Kingsbury, the handsome horse-and-carriage were one of the featured attractions on Wednesday, during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the hotel, which began welcoming guests last Thursday, just in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Bapp, admiring the $40 million, 117-room hotel. “They did a nice job.”

The carriage, custom-made by Great Northern Livery Co. in Wisconsin, will be available for weddings and other special events, also.

Hotel features include Perks Café, an indoor resort pool with spa whirlpool, outdoor terrace, fitness center, lobby bar and more than 3,000 square feet of meeting and event space in a grand ballroom setting.

Occupancy was about 70 percent this past weekend, Executive Vice President and General Manager Tom Wiedmayer said.

“We purposefully did not open at full capacity,” he said. “We wanted to get it right. When track season hits we expect to be full each day.”

In April, property was renamed — from Saratoga Casino & Raceway to Saratoga Casino Hotel — in an effort to rebrand the harness track gaming facility as more of an entertainment resort destination.

A hallway in the hotel’s main lobby leads directly to a gaming floor where some of the casino’s 1,770 video lottery terminals and electronic table games are located.

Rita Cox, senior vice president of marketing, said there are no immediate plans to add new or different types of games.

The casino’s owner — Saratoga Harness Racing Inc. — had hoped to bring a full-scale gaming facility to Saratoga with live dealers for games such as roulette, baccarat and poker. However, the proposal was met with considerable local opposition.

Next year, the new Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor is scheduled to open in Schenectady, with full-scale gaming.

“We welcome competition,” Wiedmayer said. “We’re well-suited now that we have a hotel and fine-dining service. We’re going to be here for decades to come.”

An upscale restaurant, Morton’s The Steakhouse, is located inside the hotel, also just off the main lobby. Reservations can be made through SaratogaCasino.com or Opentable.com.

“It is one of the best dining experiences in the region, maybe the state,” Mayor Joanne Yepsen.

Yepsen, Assemblywoman Carrier Woerner, D-Round Lake, and state Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon, took part in Wednesday’s ribbon cutting.

The harness racing season goes from March to mid-December. Hotel guests will be able to watch and wager from their rooms with SaratogaBets, the hotel’s online wagering platform.

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Arthur “Mo” Wright, R-Hadley, said, “I can remember working here back in the 1980s when it was a struggling harness track and they were doing anything from holding rock concerts to selling topsoil to stay afloat.”

Saratoga’s harness track was the first one in New York state to introduce gaming machines, in January 2004.

Last year, the track and casino had a $19.2 million payroll for 561 employees, provided $16 million to racing and breeding, and generated $77.6 million for education.

Groundbreaking for the new hotel was in May 2015. The project created an estimated 700 construction jobs, with a peak of 170 on hand during the busiest period.