Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mark of the beast

Once you let the gorilla out of his cage, good luck in convincing him to jump back in. This is especially the case when that gorilla happens to be a 55,000-square-foot behemoth having a pretty randy time running amok on the Spa City's south side. Now some of the politicians who freed this snarling beast --otherwise know as the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway --are confused as to why it's suddenly not playing by the rules.

By 2008, Gov. Eliot Spitzer's state budget proposes to eliminate the city and county's share of revenue from the racino's Video Lottery Terminals, The Saratogian reported Thursday. The move would trim away an estimated $4.9 million --$3.7 million from Saratoga Springs and $1.2 million for Saratoga County --both entities were tucking away for a rainy day.

Republicans in the state Legislature claim this is nothing out of the ordinary, noting prior attempts to remove this funding under the Pataki Administration. In a rare displat of vitriol, Assemblyman Roy MacDonald, one the Saratoga County supervisors to approve the racino in 2002, claims he'll fight the cuts "come hell or high water."

Well Roy, the water is rising fast. Not to mention, it doesn't take much more than a glance down the rows of pasty-faced seniors pouring their social security earnings into a string of beeping VLTs to realize there's a little slice of hell that has bubbled up off Jefferson Street.

That little slice will be much bigger come spring, with $15 million expansion project plugging away on the facility's north side. Visitors can soon expect an additional 431 video gaming machines, a new two-story nightclub and a 300-space feeding trough racino officials are falsely boasting as a "restaurant." Much to their chagrin, City officials were all but stunted from having any input in the racino's plans.

Meanwhile, the city's downtown business owners can expect a bit less traffic, a bit less business and a bit less revenue, as the racino continues to siphon tourists off Broadway. But don't worry about all those empty store fronts, assures Gavin Landry, president of the Saratoga Cheerleading for Tourism Bureau; business in Saratoga is good.

Yes, business is good at the racino. And pretty soon, it will be a lot better, as the last of the $25-per-play VLTs are wheeled into the north wing. While legislators like MacDonald battle to restore the city and county's funding, the folks on Jefferson Street will continue to reap the rewards of their rampaging gorilla. Even if the Legislature restores the funding this year, at some point the lucrative cash-cow the city and county were offered for opening the cage will eventually be gobbled up this chest-pounding primate.

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