Saratoga Casino Debate Continues

Disagreements on a possible casino at Saratoga Raceway are not likely to be resolved quickly. And these ardent opponents won’t go quietly into the night.

Even supporters cringe at “Vegas-style” experience

Casino supporters and opponents in Saratoga Springs clashed again recently at the year’s first City Council meeting.

According to the Schenectady Gazette, community members lined up for as long as 90 minutes to have their say on whether table games should come to the Saratoga Casino and Raceway. The group Save Saratoga was well-represented at the meeting, and very visible in their matching red T-shirts.

“Gambling hurts people and we don’t see it,” said casino opponent Tom Barkley. “I encourage you to be very careful about letting the camel’s nose into the tent.”

Representatives of the historic raceway and a pro-gambling group called Destination Saratoga also came out in force and jammed both the meeting room and the adjoining hallway.

“We are already a casino. We are a hometown casino,” said Kathleen Anderson, who works at the racino, which offers video lottery terminals as well as harness horse racing.

City Council members haven’t taken a public position on the issue, but the public has already spoken. In November, 57 percent of local residents voted against the constitutional amendment that will allow up to seven casinos to open around the state. But the measure passed, and Saratoga Casino and Raceway has already announced its intention to apply for a license. It is also planning a $30 million expansion of the facilities that will include a hotel.

In her inaugural address on New Year’s Day, Saratoga Mayor Joanne Yepsen said a “Vegas-style casino” would “threaten our city in the country.”

“No one has come out in favor of that type of operation,” Yepsen said.

Save Saratoga member Colin Klepetar said the comment was “just a talking point to try to appease others. I do believe our mayor wants to do the right thing and represent the majority. We feel she’s feeling pressure from some supporters.”

Cuomo says the state will be prepared to award the first four of seven casino licenses by this fall. In his State of the State address last week, Cuomo said a site-selection board will be appointed this month, applications will be accepted in March, and official bids will be due by June. Cuomo also announced he has nominated the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Mark Gearan, to become chairman of the state’s Gaming Commission.