The Saratoga Springs City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing New York’s casino gambling law Tuesday night.
Hundreds of area residents packed into Saratoga Springs City Hall Tuesday. The room was seemingly split down the middle, red shirts on one side, white on the other – the colors associated with groups against and for casino expansion at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway.
Fifty speakers came forward to voice their opinion on casino gambling before the council’s vote on a measure that opposes New York’s casino gambling law, passed in November statewide but defeated in the city.
Before mayor Joanne Yepsen introduced her resolution before the council, she said it’s time for the city to focus on other issues.
“After months of doing due diligence, it is now time to act,” said Yepsen, “making room in all of our schedules for other city priorities. We must move forward.”
The mayor read her resolution, which opposes New York’s casino gambling law as it relates to the placement of an expanded casino in Saratoga Springs.
In the resolution, Yepsen lists a number of concerns with the act:
"...That the city's vibrant downtown, the Saratoga Springs City Center as the current exclusive convention center in the city, and city's diverse package of cultural and economic assets could be adversely impacted without explicit concrete details, and required agreements and partnerships filled with city businesses and city government; that the act does not require conformance with the city comprehensive plan; that the act does not provide for home rule and introduces the possibilities of the local laws, ordinances and policies regarding land use could effectively be overridden, thereby diminishing the ability of city's citizens to dually and democratically shape the future of their own city."
The mayor also notes in her resolution that the bill includes insufficient language to protect the harness racing industry, a lack of protection for VLT revenues given to the city, and other issues.
Public Works Commissioner “Skip” Scirocco, who withdrew his own resolution that directly opposed siting an expanded casino in Saratoga Springs, following the passage of the mayor’s, voiced his own opinions against the proposal of an expanded casino in Saratoga Springs under the law.
"When the state takes away casino revenues in the future, it would be the taxpayers who are left holding the bag," said Scirocco. "Also, it cannot open the door to the type of unchecked and unregulated development casino interests would bring - development that does not fit in the with the comprehensive plan or the character or charm of our city that generations of Saratogians have worked to create."
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who released a detailed statement on her views on the casino gambling law in January, said among her concerns is the lack of local control over the siting of a casino, which under the law is conducted between the casino license applicant and an appointed Casino Siting Board.
"We have effectively been cut out of the process, and since we have been cut out of this process I see no other option at this point in time than to support the mayor's resolution as written today," said Madigan.
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Matheisen said that there were no good choices under the current law, and he would like the city to have guarantees over revenues, a more specified hand in zoning, and other siting decisions.
"If the state ever wants to come back and say to Saratoga Springs a moderate expansion of that facility with nothing else out there which maybe would be more compatible with the city, and give the city say over zoning and give the city say over any kind of future expansion and ironclad guarantees in terms of revenue, I would be more favorable towards this, but at this point in time I would support the mayor's resolution," said Mathiesen.
Commissioner of Accounts John Franck said he thought the mayor’s proposal to wait for the state to issue its Request for applications from casino developers before making any further decisions is important, and also cited his conversations with voters while campaigning. Franck said the majority of individuals he talked to door-to-door opposed the casino gambling law.
"I spoke to thousands of people and it just wasn't close in my conversations," said Franck.
After a roll call vote, the mayor’s resolution passed unanimously.
Colin Klepetar, a founding member of SAVE Saratoga, the organization against a Las Vegas-style casino in Saratoga Springs, said the resolution sends a clear message to state government that Saratoga Springs does not want a casino.
"This is an unbelievable victory for us," said Klepetar. "And it should show the gaming commission, it should show the siting board and the governor that Saratoga Springs is a community that does not want this here."
Destnation Saratoga co-chair Dan Hogan, however, said he is in support of the fact that the resolution guarantees more future discussion in Saratoga Springs after the RFA is released, and that the fight is not over.
"I think we have our work cut out for us but I certainly don't belive in any way, shape or form that the fight is over," said Hogan.
The resolution revokes a 2012 resolution passed by the City Council that urged state lawmakers to let the Saratoga Casino and Raceway be eligible to apply for an expanded casino license.
New York State is set to issue the RFA this month.