SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- It's highly possible that Saratoga Race Course, within two years, could be competing for patrons with up to three new full-scale casinos in the Capital Region and Catskills.
The track set an all-time attendance mark of 1 million-plus fans in 2003 when daily average attendance was 29,147 compared to 21,679 a decade later in 2013 -- a 25 percent decline.
Saratoga's neighboring harness track casino opened in January 2004, and flat track attendance dropped 10 percent over the next three years and has only topped the 900,000 plateau once in the past six summers. Last year, attendance fell slightly from 2012 despite the major 150th anniversary of Saratoga racing celebration.
"It's got to have an impact," NYRA board member Charles Wait of Saratoga Springs said of additional casino gaming. "But I think Saratoga's very resilient. We've survived Lottery, OTB (Off Track Betting), Atlantic City and other out-of-state casinos. As long as you continue having the best racing and give fans a nice experience, we'll be fine."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for four new full-scale casinos in three parts of the state. It's believed that the Catskills/Hudson Valley will get two such facilities with one each in the Capital Region and Southern Tier/Finger Lakes.
Several parties have expressed interest in putting casinos in East Greenbush, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Amsterdam and at Howe Caverns.
Plus, the track gets large numbers of metropolitan New York and Long Islands fans, who might be tempted to spend betting dollars at posh new resorts in the Catskills.
New York Racing Association is trying to broaden its base to other Northeast population centers, such as Boston and Connecticut, through expanded marketing initiatives, NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay said Monday.
The 17-member NYRA board has 12 state appointees. Cuomo has charged the board with returning NYRA to private hands by late 2015.
The board is expected to review a preliminary report on such plans this August, Wait said.
Kay said Monday that NYRA, which has a history of operating in the red, is now debt-free and has paid off its $25 million loan to Genting Corp., which runs Aqueduct Racetrack's casino. NYRA expects to have a break-even year financially, Kay said.
Wait down-played attendance concerns, saying that some past years' numbers might have been inflated by popular giveaway dates, when large numbers of people "spin" through turnstiles. Last year's giveaways weren't as attractive as some others, he said.
"My guess is that it will be a stronger season attendance-wise than last year," he said.