Conversation Builds Around NY Casino Referendum In Saratoga Springs

Oct 11, 2013

With New Yorkers set to vote on a referendum that would expand casino gambling in New York state, people are speaking out on all sides of the argument. But how would a resort casino affect the Saratoga region – an area already home to gaming?  

State residents will vote November 5th on whether to allow a change to the state constitution that would allow gambling in New York. Saratoga Springs, a city with a 150-year history of gambling at its Saratoga Race Course and, for the last decade, Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, a facility with video gaming machines, is being eyed as a potential location for a new resort-style casino with table games.

At a recent regulatory reform forum held in Saratoga Springs, Todd Shimkus, the Executive Director of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said since the state first approved a measure to allow video gaming machines in 2002, the revenues brought in from the video lottery terminals strengthened racing in Saratoga – from VLT revenues at Aqueduct benefiting thoroughbred racing and from the Saratoga Casino and Raceway’s benefit to harness racing.

A provision in the casino referendum would allow more VLT facilities to open in the state, but Shimkus said he was fearful increased competition could divert money from Saratoga’s racing venues.

"If it's implemented it could harm both the thoroughbred racing industry if the VLT at Aqueduct if their revenues are harmed, and it could harm the harness racing track as well if the Saratoga Casino and Raceway's business is harmed as well," said Shimkus.

Shimkus said that whether the measure is approved or defeated by voters, he’d like to see state regulators work closely with the business community.

"We just ask that the regulators take into consideration doing no harm here in Saratoga and working with us to make sure it has a positive impact either way," said Shimkus.

Many state and local officials have been supportive of expanding gambling in Saratoga Springs and the Capital Region, in hopes of bringing in much needed dollars to help control increases in property taxes and aiding education. A recent state report said that the Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act could bring a $430 million increase in annual revenue. 

At a recent press conference, state Assemblyman John McDonald spoke for his fellow lawmakers in the Saratoga County delegation on their belief that Saratoga Springs is the right place for more gaming if it’s introduced in New York.

"Being part of the Saratoga County delegation I can tell you that they are significantly interested because they've had...a good track record with gambling in Saratoga," said McDonald.

But some Saratoga residents remained concerned. A social media campaign on Facebook called “Saratogians Against More Casino Gambling In Our Town” was launched this summer and has close to 200 members.

In the group’s description, founder Colin Klepetar writes…

“I honestly believe that negative effects of bringing big casinos does very little to help Saratoga…and, unfortunately, the jobs it will create won’t be jobs for town residents.”

Klepetar continues saying, “ a large casino will lower our property values, increase crime, negatively effect our quality of life, increase traffic, et cetera…oh, but it will create jobs for people who don’t live within the city limits…sounds like a terrible deal for us.”

Assemblyman McDonald said that he understands there are concerns, but thinks the state can play a role in mitigating social impacts, including gambling addiction.

"Personally I'd rather be in a position where we can regulate casino gambling in New York state and at the same time provide the support and services to those issues as they crop up," said McDonald. "I don't think anyone would be naive to say there's not going to be concerns but on the same token let's work here, because honestly we've been exporting that business for the past several decades without any control over it."

On Monday Saratoga residents will get the chance to discuss their concerns and learn more about the casino referendum at a public forum hosted by Saratoga Wire at the Saratoga Arts Building in Congress Park.

Experts from Siena college and Utica College will be on hand to offer their ideas on the impacts of casino gambling in New York.

For more information visit: