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Thursday, 26 December 2013 12:23

The Right Casino Destination?

By | News

Destination Saratoga says the answer is already here for a decade.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – “I want to do this. Usually I get asked to serve on a board or office. This is a position I have chosen.” 


So states Daniel D. Hogan, one of three co-chairs for the recently formed “Destination Saratoga” group, which is seeking to support the expansion plans at Saratoga Casino and Raceway (SCR) to include live table gaming. 


Mr. Hogan is one of three co-chairs of a 16-person steering committee composed from a broad cross-section of the local and regional business community and other areas. We sat down with him and steering committee member Gordon Boyd to gain insight as to the group’s advocacy and strategy. 


The composition of the steering committee is notable for its makeup alone – bringing together diverse factions such as longtime Republican County Chair Jasper Nolan with former (and also longtime) Democratic Commissioner of Public Works Tom McTygue.  Current officeholders are, as to be expected, not represented. Yet Carrie Woerner, candidate for State Assembly in the 113th District, is named as a steering committee member. (Visit destinationsaratoga.com for the complete list of committee members).  


While no employee of Saratoga Casino and Raceway is part of the steering committee of “Destination,” the website makes it clear that this group’s activities are supported and funded by SCR. “It’s our role to be supportive of their activities,” noted Rita Cox, SCR’s senior vice president of marketing and external affairs, “We’ll be involved as things proceed.”


Mr. Hogan brings to the table an accomplished background, which includes both relevant industry experience and public service. Until earlier this year, he served as Chairman and Board Member at the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, a three-person panel which set policy, made and enforced rules for the state’s horse racing and charitable gaming industries. While in that capacity, he became an admirer of SCR’s acumen and business practices, particularly how they were able to capitalize on, and revitalize harness racing as a result of being named a video lottery terminal (VLT) destination nearly 10 years ago. 


“The quality of racing, the purse structure is like night and day now,” Hogan said. This led him to approach SCR officials after Proposition 1’s statewide passage, with a plan to form a group that would support the proposition that SCR would be the best siting for the Capital Region’s casino. 


In fact, Hogan stated that there has been a casino here, well run in concert with the community’s values, since SCR gained VLT’s. “They have proven to be fiscally and socially responsible; I approached them because I feel that this is the best place for expanded gaming, for the city, county and the region’s best overall development.”


Hogan is a resident of Albany, a fact that also includes a stint as Deputy County Executive. He said that he expected competitive applications would come from Albany and Rensselaer once the application guidelines are formulated. Nonetheless, for overall economic impact, he concludes that SCR is the best location. 


He has put together the steering committee team and has reached out to the community at large. The group claims over 500 members, which was the estimated number of supporters that were brought in by Upstate Transit to the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce organized casino fact-finding forum on Monday, December 16 at the Saratoga Springs City Center. 


The bussing in of supporters was noted in some quarters as being somewhat illegitimate in some way as if people were being planted but Hogan saw it more as good planning:


“Look, we knew that parking by the City Center with a group that large was going to be an issue.” Hogan said. “We decided to meet in a central location to make sure everyone that wanted to get to the forum was able to.” Hogan estimated that the supporters were composed of “about 200 SCR employees, 200 horsemen in some capacity and about 100 union members” in trades that would benefit from expanded gaming at SCR.


It is relevant to point out that Mr. Hogan said that he is a paid consultant for Destination Saratoga at this time, and he is devoting full-time effort to the organization and it’s goals. Their budget is not public, but it is reasonable to presume that the lion’s share, if not all of the funding comes from SCR. The other steering committee members are volunteers. 


Gordon Boyd articulated the economic impact numbers. “The revenue sharing provisions in Proposition 1 estimate that both the City of Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County would receive about 5.5 to 5.7 million dollars annually. This is more than one-third of the annual property tax rate.” In fact, the 2012 property tax assessment was just over $15 million, which supports Boyd’s calculation. “This does not take into account the hundreds of new jobs that will be created; good paying positions with decent wages and benefits.”


Hogan stated that he supports an open application process, a fact echoed by SCR’s Rita Cox, although both disclaimer this statement that this will be “to the extent possible.” As the regulations are yet to be issued, they could be legally prevented from revealing certain documents and data. This will obviously be subjected to both media and community scrutiny as the process moves forward. 


To date, there have been the beginnings of a multi-media campaign, and the Saratoga Casino and Raceway has planned a full-schedule of promotional and public relations activities surrounding it’s tenth anniversary of VLT’s (which came on line on January 28, 2004). 


Much of the activity regarding this issue is still ahead. Hogan did find reason to be optimistic, even finding some small yet significant common ground with their worthy opposition:


“They are against a Vegas-style expansion and so are we. We want a Saratoga-style casino, one that works with and benefits our community at large. The best place to make this happen is at The Saratoga Casino and Raceway.”


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