I spoke to Tom McTygue who is president of the Saratoga Horsepersons Association about the recent decision by what had been Saratoga Gaming And Raceway to rename itself Saratoga Casino Hotel.
A little history: A major part of convincing the citizens of New York state in general and the Saratoga Springs community in particular to allow slot machine/gambling emporiums was the promise to protect and incorporate the horse racing industry into the gaming operations. The network that supports horse racing in our area is substantive. In addition to the obvious professions of drivers and trainers, there are blacksmiths, veterinarians, and the farming industry that provides the feed along with the many hands that maintain the horses and their facilities. The legislation that established these new gambling facilities included requirements that they contribute to the purses for races and guarantee a minimum number of racing days. The gambling industry was fully aware that they were mobilizing a very large constituency to support them when they accepted these requirements.
Little did our community realize that these gambling facilities would be exempt from local land use laws when the final version of the law was passed.
Times have changed. In Florida the gambling industry there is pressing to eliminate the dog and horse racing requirements. Churchill Downs, which is owned by the same company as Saratoga Casino Hotel, has already been cutting back on its support of the horse racing side of their business.
According to Mr. McTygue, Joe Gerrity, Jr. who was the original principle owner of the local gambling emporium had been an enthusiastic member of the horse racing industry. He owned a large farm in Columbia County where he raised and trained horses. Unfortunately, Mr. Gerrity died some years ago and apparently his son does not share his passion.
Mr. McTygue told me that for years the Horsepersons Association had enjoyed a cooperative relationship with Saratoga Gaming and Raceway. Apparently, this is no longer quite the same. He was notified two days before the public announcement of the decision to drop “Racing” from the name in the new “branding” campaign.
Mr. McTygue is concerned on several levels. First, by dropping “Racing” people will no longer know through their name that horse racing is going on. He notes that the signage by Jefferson Avenue no longer announces the sport. Second, he is deeply concerned about the future of racing here in Saratoga given this obvious change in priorities.
Mr. McTygue noted that the handle this year is up from the previous year but for Saratoga Casino Hotel, this still means the expense of paying into the purses.
It is little wonder that the horse racing industry here is very worried about the future.
Jenny Grey’s Story From The April 27 Saratogian
The Racino renamed: Saratoga Casino and Hotel
By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian
Posted: 04/27/16, 6:29 PM EDT | Updated: 3 days ago
The newly named Saratoga Casino Hotel sign graces the harness-track facilities. Jennie Grey – firstname.lastname@example.org
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Saratoga’s harness track has been renamed and rebranded by management determined to compete with gaming around the region, as well as with other entertainment options. Set to open in July, the newly named Saratoga Casino Hotel on Crescent Avenue plans to be a destination location for visitors. The rebranding is intended to reflect the casino’s transformation into a comprehensive, modern place offering something for everyone.
“The addition of the hotel and its amenities, including Morton’s The Steakhouse, which seats 130, creates an entertainment experience unmatched in the area,” said Saratoga Casino Hotel Senior Vice President of Marketing Rita Cox. “Our new brand is a product of this transformation, highlighting that we are a complete entertainment locale within the already world-famous tourist destination that is Saratoga Springs. First-time and repeat guests alike will find new reasons to visit — and to keep coming back for all we have to offer.”
However, the Saratoga Harness Horsepersons Association wants to ensure that visitors know there’s still a harness track at the venue, as well as a new hotel. Thomas McTygue, president of the association, wrote in a press release of the group’s concern.
“The decision to change the name of Saratoga Casino and Raceway to Saratoga Casino Hotel is inconsistent with our city’s history and the long tradition of honoring our oldest form of horse racing in Saratoga Springs,” he wrote.
Saratoga Springs’ harness track, first called simply Saratoga Raceway, opened in 1941. Management changed the name to Saratoga Equine Sports Center in the 1990s, to reflect plans to bring in more horse-related activities. The name then became Saratoga Gaming and Raceway in 2004. In 2011, the facility changed names once more to Saratoga Casino and Raceway, connected to plans to introduce electronic table games and increase the diversity of gaming options at the Racino, as the venue has been popularly called since 2011.
Now the $40 million, 123,000-square-foot hotel expansion features more than 1,700 slot machines, electronic table games, the Vapor nightclub, two full-service restaurants with buffets, a casual-dining restaurant, three full-service bars, a deli, and a variety of guest services including valet parking and coat check. Guests will also be able to watch and wager on live harness racing from every room in the hotel.
Despite that racing-focused amenity, McTygue wrote, “By dropping the name reference to the raceway and harness track, it is clear the new management team in charge of running the harness track and racino is more interested in casino gambling and the video lottery terminals than in the sport of harness horse racing.”
Saratoga Casino Hotel is just steps away from the harness track and the casino floor. The hotel features 117 luxury rooms and suites, each with a Saratoga Springs mural on one wall. The premium rooms and suites are named after the raceway’s founders and longtime president Roland Harriman, Dunbar Bostwick and Ernest Morris. Suites feature large bay windows, and many overlook the harness track. The most luxurious space, the 900-square-foot Presidential Suite, will be $700 a night during the summer season.
The hotel’s amenities comprise a lobby bar, Perks Café, an indoor resort pool with a spa whirlpool, a fitness center, an outdoor terrace and a subdividable 3,000-square-foot ballroom for private events.
“We view the hotel as a natural next step for this property,” Cox said. “Racing began here 75 years ago, and we haven’t stopped growing and evolving since then. Our new brand reflects our commitment to providing new amenities and entertainment opportunities for our guests, with racing always at the core of who we are.”
McTygue wrote, “The Saratoga Harness Horsepersons’ Association Board of Directors, representing more than 1,200 members, is strongly opposed to this move to diminish the importance of horse racing at Saratoga Harness. From all indications, this name change is an obvious and deliberate maneuver to turn away from the harness horse racing industry that is economically important to this region, in exchange for the fast money offered by electronic gaming.”
Cox called the new hotel part of the harness track and the casino as an important economic driver in the area. Some 600 employees work at the venue now.
“We take our responsibility to those workers very seriously,” she said. “Because of that, we must continually evolve.”
She said the building of the hotel and the rebranding had to be done to compete with the Schenectady casino.
“We want to offer our amenities to existing and to new customers,” she said. “We want to introduce more people to the venue. Being in Saratoga Springs, with all it has to offer, also helps set us apart. We have racing, entertainment, music and dining here.”
A full-fledged rebranding campaign for the casino is now underway, including a newly designed website that will be live next week. Revamped television spots, radio ads and billboards for Saratoga Casino Hotel will begin showing up in the coming weeks.
As the hotel expansion will create more than 100 new jobs, a job fair will be held May 16 inside the Vapor nightclub from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Openings will include banquet staff, cooks and wait staff at Morton’s The Steakhouse; hotel front-desk staff; and room attendants. Information on the newly created positions will be provided, and prospective candidates will be offered on-the-spot interviews.
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