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City Says 'No' To State
By Arthur Gonick
SARATOGA SPRINGS— With hundreds in attendance at the Saratoga Springs City Council Meeting on Tuesday, March 4, after months of public debate and public comment (with months more to come) Mayor Joanne Yepsen at 9:30 p.m. read a resolution into the record which stated firm opposition to several provisions of the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013.
The resolution received unanimous (5-0) approval by a roll call vote of the entire council.
Mayor Yepsen, in introducing the resolution, noted that an earlier meeting with the New York State Gaming Commission gave her sufficient indications that the forthcoming request for applications (RFA) later this month would not contain enough provisions for "home rule," or local control of conditions such as unlimited expansion of a gaming facility or potential license transfer.
This, coupled with what she characterized an ambitious agenda of items that are important to citizens since taking office, led her to conclude:"We cannot change a siting decision (for an expanded gaming facility), that is for the state but we can assert our desire to protect our mix of assets." Mayor Yepsen cited horse racing, downtown, the City Center and cultural assets such as SPAC among others. "It is time to act."
While each council member voted for the resolution, they stated differing reasons why they say they came to that conclusion. Commissioner Anthony Scirocco had a resolution on his agenda that might be characterized as more firmly against an expanded gaming facility, under any circumstances than the mayor’s, but found sufficient common ground in the mayor’s resolution to vote for this one and withdraw his. Commissioner Michele Madigan expressed that she felt "cut out" of the state’s process for citing an expanded gaming facility, but noted that "there will be impacts" whether Saratoga Springs gets one or that facility is placed somewhere else nearby in the Capital Region.
Commissioner Chris Mathiesen noted that he had hoped that a middle ground could be reached, for instance expanded table gaming at Saratoga Casino and Raceway (SCR) without a large hotel or entertainment facility. But given that the state’s procedures left the council with only an "all or nothing" option, he would opt for approving the resolution. Commissioner John Franck said that he would have preferred to wait for the RFA, but that he supported the mayor’s conclusions that there would be little difference in "home rule" provisions once issued.
The unanimous vote and the wording of the language of the resolution firmly placed the onus of political pressure on the State Gaming Commission. It also was a masterful way in which both the pro and anti-expanded gaming facility in Saratoga Springs could claim satisfaction with the result, while acknowledging that much work remains before a final result is reached.
In a release shortly after the vote, the SAVE group, which opposes expanded gaming in the city, said in part: "The full support of the City Council rejecting a casino shows clear vision for the future of Saratoga Springs and it recognizes the fact that continuing our economic successes, preserving our quality of life and moving forward in a positive way that focuses on maintaining a strong downtown, protecting the horse industry, guarding the event spaces and maintaining control of our own economic future does not align with the goals of a casino…We hope that the Gaming Commission, the siting board and the Governor have finally realized that our community does not support siting a casino here and we hope that they will respect our collective voice The Council has sent a clear message to the Siting Board in Albany, that a casino has no place in Saratoga Springs."
But Destination Saratoga, in favor of expanded gaming at SCR, said in part:"Destination Saratoga applauds Mayor Joanne Yepsen and the City Commissioners for passing a resolution that is… reserving judgment on expanded gaming at Saratoga Casino and Raceway until the state's request for applications is released and the details of the casino's bid are finalized…We agree with the City Council that Saratoga is a special place and that a Las Vegas style casino has no place in our city. We also know that Saratoga has successfully hosted a casino for the last ten years, and the benefits of that relationship are evident on Broadway and beyond. We are confident that once the facts are available, the city council and the public alike will see the benefits of an enhanced Saratoga Casino and Raceway and also recognize the negative consequences of sending those benefits to another nearby community, and the choice will be clear."
But the clear choice from here is that the council itself was the biggest "winner" tonight. Every political science student should be required to study this scenario, for they have accomplished what was recently considered impossible, making two diverse factions feel like a winner, while leaving enough wiggle-room to re-open discussions on the topic if conditions warrant. A master bullfighting technique indeed, accomplished with both red and white capes. Ole`!
In other council news:
- The name of Pleasant Street was changed to Ray Waldron Way from Washington Street to the Westside recreation fields to honor the city’s long-time and beloved coach.
- An amendment to chapter 148 of the city code entitled "Noise" was amended. A 90-decibel limit on outdoor live music was established.
- The water and sewer rates resolution for 2014 passed.