The Saratogian

A bipartisan group of local officials told the governor’s office on Wednesday why the Spa City should have a Las Vegas-style casino.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed phasing in full-scale gaming venues, with slots and table games with dealers, at three upstate sites.

The measure is expected to be put before voters, whose approval is required, in a statewide referendum in November.

“There (are) a lot of unknowns,” said Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, D-Saratoga Springs. “We’re just trying to get to the table first and in person.”

Yepsen, Mayor Scott Johnson and Supervisor Matt Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, the county Racing Committee chairman, met with Cuomo’s racing and gaming adviser, Bennett Liebman, at the state Capitol in Albany Wednesday. The contingent also included city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, deputy Public Safety Commissioner Eileen Finneran, county Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan Grattidge, R-Charlton, and Supervisor Tom Richardson, D-Mechanicville.

The group gave Liebman copies of city and county resolutions calling for Saratoga Springs to get a casino, adding that some of its revenues should be dedicated to both the thoroughbred and harness racing industries.

“Saratoga is a horse racing city first, casinos second,” Yepsen said. “The reason we want this … is so that money raised can really benefit our local economy.”

In 2002, Saratoga Springs was divided about whether to have a racetrack casino and the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce tried to block such efforts legally. However, the local group assured state officials that Saratoga County is now unified in its support for a full-fledged casino, Johnson said.

“We want to make sure we’re not left out of the equation,” he said.

Saratoga Casino & Raceway has already spent

$1 million drawing up plans for a proposed $40 million expansion if it’s allowed to have full-casino gaming. At present, only electronic slots and table games are allowed.

“It’s going to be a competitive process,” Veitch said. “A lot of communities that already have gaming facilities are doing what we’re doing.”

There are seven other racetrack casinos in upstate New York. Cuomo has said he doesn’t want New York City to have a full casino, at least not right away, which would rule out the new Resorts World New York Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. That’s already the highest-grossing gaming venue in the country.

Local officials argue that Saratoga can generate new revenue for the state more quickly because it already has a racetrack casino that could be expanded. Building a new casino from scratch would take much longer, delaying income for the state, racing and local municipalities, they say.

In addition to existing racetrack casinos, other places such as the Catskills and Lake George have been mentioned as possible locations for free-standing, non-racetrack casinos.

The state Legislature approved a measure last year that would allow full casinos. However, the same bills must be passed during the current legislative session, which ends in June, for the proposal to go before voters in November.