Saratoga split by VLT proposal

November 13, 2001 6:23 AM
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Once again, the two horse racing sports”” thoroughbred and harness ”” are on opposite sides of an issue: Should VLTs, video lottery terminals or just another name for slot machines, be allowed in Saratoga County, N.Y.

That the two differ in their opinions is nothing new since they have been at logger heads for the past half-century. Only in few areas have the two pari-mutuel sports found areas of agreement.

The most recent split comes about because Gov. George Pataki has shepherded through the legislative process a law that will permit not only Indian-casinos but the installation of VLTs at racetracks in various parts of the state.

As for Saratoga Springs, the thoroughbred industry through spokesman Barry Schwartz, chairman of the N.Y. Racing Association, has vehemently insisted that slots would hurt the pristine image of its summer venue, Saratoga Race Course.

Saratoga Equine Sports Center, a harness track, formerly known simply as Saratoga Raceway, operates year round but has been struggling to make a buck. In fact, track spokesman Skip Carlson says that without VLTs and the prospects of more casinos being constructed, the trotting track won’t survive.

And, then there are the Saratoga residents who just oppose the idea of expanded gambling in their state and possibly in their neighborhood. They’re thinking of challenging the law as unconstitutional.

Schwartz really wasn’t a big advocate of slot machines but feels the addition of VLTs at Aqueduct Racetrack will “keep New York at the top of the sport.”

But for Carlson, it’s a question of survival, of jobs and estimated $50 million in annual revenues.