Saratoga Casino Owner Hedging His Bets

James Featherstonhaugh, part owner of Saratoga Raceway, is looking outside the historic community for casino sites. Many Saratoga residents oppose a casino in their town. Saratoga Springs is in one of the zones open to casinos in upstate New York.

Rensselaer waterfront a possibility

James Featherstonhaugh, Albany lawyer, president of the New York Gaming Association, and part-owner of Saratoga Raceway, may be hedging his bets about a possible Vegas-style casino at the racino in Saratoga Springs.

According to Capital New York, the man known as “Feathers” has been looking at other potential sites, including one in the community of Rensselaer, “as something of a Plan B.”

Featherstonhaugh wants to win one of four full casino licenses for his Saratoga location. But he is well aware of local clamor against a Class III gaming hall in the historic town. More than half of Saratoga voters came out against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s casino referendum last November.

“I looked at (de Laet’s Landing) to see whether it would be a site at which we might at some point become interested,” Featherstonhaugh said. “I’m trying to do what I think any sensible businessman would do, which is to scout his opposition and provide himself with options.”

While most voters in Saratoga do not support a casino in the town, the city’s racetrack workers firmly support the notion. During the Saratoga casino forum in December, horseman John McMahon called Saratoga Springs “one of the greatest success stories in upstate New York.” According to the Saratogian, McMahon said it would be a mistake to create a regional casino in the area that is not part of the racetrack.

“There’s not a racetrack in the country today that operates with a casino that it competes with,” McMahon said at the forum.

Meanwhile, other communities in the vicinity are weighing the pros and cons of casino development. In Seneca County, Tom Wilmot Jr. of real estate developer Wilmorite said that company is also lobbying for one of the four casino licenses.

“Our main goal is we’re working to the governor’s schedule. We want to be able to tell him that we’ll break ground the day we get that license,” Wilmot said. If Wilmorite’s application is approved, the company will begin building the $350 million resort with a 200-room hotel, entertainment and dining facilities and a spa, the Auburn Citizen reported.

Wilmot said people in Seneca County “have been very receptive. So far, we’ve been very pleased with the support and the time that the town has given us in their review of our proposal and the same goes with the county. As for the general public, I would say the same—that we’ve been received very warmly to date.”

That support is not universal. Jim Dawley, of Tyre, has joined an anti-casino group. “This is a farming community,” he said. “We have a desire to keep it rural. There was a 2008 survey that showed the majority of town residents want to stay rural and keep commercial, residential and industrial development restrained.”

Some of the same sentiments have been expressed in the town of Mamakating, Sullivan County, where developers want to build a casino at Shawangunk Ridge, a wooded region and a favorite of hikers near the Appalachian Trail.

“We look to the Town Board to be stewards of our natural resources, and the Ridge is one of our most precious resources,” said the president of the Basha Kill Area Association, Paula Medley. “No way should a casino be foisted the Ridge.

“We’ll fight this tooth and nail,” Medley vowed.