Friday, 24 January 2014 11:53

Reader’s View: Madigan: On Expanded Gaming

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The potential placement of a full-scale casino will be a defining issue for our city. A sizeable segment of our community is opposed to the idea; a sizeable segment of our community is in favor of the idea. As Finance Commissioner I am concerned about the fiscal impact to Saratoga Springs. I serve as the City’s Chief Fiscal Officer, tax collector, and budget administrator. I am elected to protect the City and taxpayers’ financial interests. This is one lens through which I must view this important issue. The majority of voters in NYS voted for expanded casino gambling. NYS law - the Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013 - has designated the Capital District-Saratoga area as a site for a casino and the State is moving ahead quickly with its casino development plans. Much of the conversation to date has focused on what happens to the City if the casino is located here. But there is another question of equal concern: what happens to the City if the casino is instead located nearby? A new casino located in close proximity to Saratoga Springs, which may include a resort hotel, an entertainment complex, and convention facility, could draw business away from the Casino and Raceway, SPAC, City Center, Race Course and our downtown. Reduced attendance at those venues would hurt the local economy. Further, a new casino located nearby could place our current VLT revenue at risk. We estimate that in 2014 we will collect $16.0M in property taxes and $1.83M in VLT revenue toward the City’s 40.5M operating budget. A reduction in VLT funding would force the City to either reduce services or raise property taxes. According to the State’s latest estimates, siting the casino here would provide the City with an additional $5.7 million in revenue sharing. The State’s estimates could prove to be high, but these funds would be critical to increases in City services and potential decreases in the City property tax. Expanding our existing casino will bring challenges, but it could also provide the opportunity, through the revenue sharing, to maintain and enhance city services and make cuts in property tax rates that benefit everyone. Moreover, a Saratoga Springs siting allows us to draw new visitors to the City¹s many other fine venues. There are numerous unknowns preying on the decision making process, many of which should be addressed in the State’s Request for Applications. I believe that it is premature to reach a definitive conclusion before the State releases this document. It should add clarity to critical issues such as the level of local oversight and community involvement, minimum hotel-room requirements, and event facility size. Until we know exactly what we are being asked to support, we cannot make an informed judgment. A hasty decision made on partial information is a disservice to the all ­ our citizens, our local businesses, and the applicants alike. Without some control and oversight over what could eventually be built in our city, it will be difficult to support expanded casino gambling within our boundaries. I am hopeful that the State and the Casino and Raceway will heed the concerns of their local elected officials and constituents. We must consider all the implications based on all the facts available. We must be prepared to see our decision through and keep the City of Saratoga strong, healthy, successful, and safe. Michele Madigan is Commissioner of Finance for the City of Saratoga Springs
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