New York Casino Bidders Get Busy

From Albany to Binghamton to Saratoga and the Catskill Mountains, would-be casino operators are getting ready to make their bids on four Class III licenses that will be awarded this year.

Cuomo rejects proposes “home-rule” bill

Saratoga Casino and Raceway marked its first decade as a racino last week. Now its owners want to take it to the next level by turning it into Class III casino. The government of New York State will award four casino licenses by fall, and the first gaming halls could be open as early as next January.

In its bid for a license, Saratoga will tout its strong performance to date. The racino has generated billions in wagers since it opened in January 2004, and has poured more than $635 million into the state’s education fund, reports the Albany Business Journal.

Though most of the residents of Saratoga Springs voted against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s gaming referendum last fall?a measure that eventually will add seven Vegas-style casinos across the state?the racino is waging an aggressive campaign to land the license, starting with a $30 million expansion that would add to its luster as a destination.

In her first State of City address last month, Mayor Joanne Yepsen faced an audience filled with casino opponents and enthusiasts, all wearing T-shirts expressing their views.

“I will continue to listen to all our citizens,” said Yepsen. “But even though Albany and the governor’s siting panel have the final determination, we can still try?we will do everything in our local power?to have our voices heard.”

Yepsen urged people on both sides of the debate to work together.

“Being this divisive and disingenuous will get us nowhere,” she said. “I implore all of you to talk to each other tonight in different colored shirts and find common ground, and think about how we can maximize the precious little input that we do have.”

Yepsen has said she is against a Vegas-style casino, which would clash with the city’s historic character. But she also has shown support for a plan that would add new tax revenues, bring new jobs and benefit harness racing.

Dan Hogan, co-chairman of the pro-casino group Destination Saratoga, said Yepsen “is keeping an open mind about gaming in this city and I think that in and of itself is a victory for us.”

Elsewhere, the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce board of directors has endorsed the proposed Traditions Resort and Casino project over a planned expansion at Tioga Downs, according to the Ithaca Journal.

“Based on the criteria for selection and revenue projections established by the New York State Gaming Commission, we feel that Traditions at the Glen presents the plan with the most direct benefits to the businesses and taxpayers of Broome County,” said Lou Santoni, president and CEO of the chamber.

Despite that endorsement, Tioga Downs plans a $90 million expansion project that will begin if and when it gets the casino license. A third group calling itself Vista Hospitality is also eying locations in Binghamton. And Thomas Wilmot, chairman of Rochester-based Wilmorite, plans to submit a bid for a $350 million project called Wilmot Casino & Resort in the town of Tyre in Seneca County.

Meanwhile, a pair of Senate Democrats introduced legislation last month that would require community approval for any casino to be built. Senators Liz Krueger and Cecilia Tkaczyk say they want to protect the home-rule rights of municipalities, according to the Albany Times-Union. Their bill would require that local support for a casino be demonstrated through the passage of a local law or resolution.

Tkaczyk said the legislation would “ensure that the casinos are good neighbors and sited only in those municipalities that want them.”

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said the administration opposes the Krueger-Tkaczyk proposal. “We will reject any attempts to politicize the selection process with unnecessary legislation,” she said.