S-lots of money: Saratoga Center back on track

Feb 19, 2002 3:55 AM


Come late December, slots-style lottery terminals should be seen at the financially-troubled Sullivan County Equine Center.

The upstate New York harness track received final approval at a meeting last week of the County Board of Supervisors. The 100 in attendance stood and applauded the decision, which was reached in a 20-3 vote.

“We had our livelihoods at stake,” said Skip Carlson, the track’s general manager. “I am so proud of the employees, the horsemen and all the union people.”

The harness track is planning to invest $4.5 million in upgrading its facility to accommodate the terminals. Construction is tentatively slated to begin in late spring.

The only obstacle would be a pending lawsuit brought by anti-casino forces against the state. However, the County’s vote was a major hurdle cleared toward the appearance of slots at the Center, which should see a big boost in jobs and attendance.

The track is expected to draw in excess of 5,000 per night, which was reached during its heyday in the 1960s. Currently, the track draws a daily crowd of 350.

Saratoga County is the leading horse county in the state, with 11,800 horses of all types. The industry’s value is $317.4 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2000 Equine Survey. The statewide value is $1.7 billion, with 168,000 horses.

Saratoga was the last of three upstate New York counties to approve legalizing gaming at its track. Erie and Genesee had earlier ratified the plan.

The harness track projected $500 million will be wagered using 750 to 1,000 slots-styled machines.

Rock put asleep

The Tiguas 11th hour fight to keep Sleeping Rock Casino open failed.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a stay that would have allowed gaming to continue, while the El Paso tribe appealed adverse legal rulings.

“At this point, I think it’s the end of the line,” said Lonny Hoffman, a law professor at the University of Houston and an expert on the 5th Circuit Court in Texas.

The Tiguas have been fighting state attorney general John Cornyn’s efforts to close the casino since he filed a lawsuit against Sleeping Rock in 1999 claiming it violated state law.

Tribal attorneys have said they will continue appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, after last week’s rejection for a stay, the prospects that the court will ever hear the case look dim. The court refused a Tigua request to hear similar issues in 1995.

Greektown fined

The Michigan Gaming Control Board issued the stiffest fine ever last week to the Greektown Casino and its management company for improper business deals.

Greektown was ordered to pay $425,000 for failing to have written contracts, not using competitive bids, and for dealings with former shareholders Ted Gatzaros, James Papas and their wives.

Millennium Management, also named in the fine, will pay $100,000 to the board. Greektown has agreed to pay $300,000 plus $25,000 in investigative costs.

The fine also covers related violations of Michigan gaming rules involving the casino’s rewards program for gamblers.

Stations 2, Foes 0

The U.S. Department of the Interior has twice approved Stations Casinos agreement build a new casino near Sacramento on Indian land, but that’s not good enough.

Opponents have promised to sue the Department within the 30-day appeal window using three possible legal arguments.

Tribal attorney Howard Dickstein labeled the promised lawsuit “frivolous” and predicted a judge will decline to block construction.

Stations Casinos said in a statement that it intends to begin construction on the $100 million casino near Interstate 80 and Sacramento. The proposal is considered the biggest Indian threat to the Reno area casino operators.

New Mexico wins

The New Mexico state Supreme Court has rejected a lawmaker’s challenge to the new gambling agreements with Indian tribes.

The 14-year pacts took effect in December after they were approved by the U.S. ­­Interior Department. The pacts lowered the gambling payments from Indian casinos to the state.

Gaming expansion

A proposed gaming bill for Northern Kentucky is expected to be filed in the state legislature next week, according to a Cincinnati Enquirer story.

Lawmakers and representatives of Kentucky’s thoroughbred industry will introduce a bill that would allow the operation of video slot machines at eight state racetracks.

Gaming could generate as much as $300 million per year for Kentucky, which is facing projected budget problems for the next few years.