Saratoga Racino Banking on NYRA Customers

A couple of years ago, there were suggestions a soon-to-be-built gaming parlor at Saratoga Raceway would close during the day in August when the Thoroughbreds came to down.

But with the video gaming machine parlor now open at the renamed Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, those thoughts are a distant memory.

"We're certainly going to try to take advantage of the crowds that are coming," said Jamie Hartman, the gaming general manager at the track located just up the street from the Thoroughbred operated by the New York Racing Association.

Not only will the 1,325 VGMs be operating when the Thoroughbreds begin racing at the end of July, but Hartman said his facility is going to make every marketing effort possible to attract NYRA customers to share some of their money with his track.

Hartman, who spoke at a June 23 gambling conference at the Oneida Indian Nation's Turning Stone casino in upstate New York, said he doesn't see his track necessarily trying to go head-to-head with NYRA for bettors during racing hours. But at other times, especially night, he predicts NYRA customers will be looking for other betting options. He said he expects a "tremendous lift" during NYRA's meet, especially in the evenings.

When asked by an audience member if he envisioned any joint marketing with NYRA, he said: "They don't want to help grow us because they think we're going to hurt their business."

Hartman, new to Saratoga, didn't shy away from keeping the rivalry going between the two tracks. Like other industry officials at the conference, he called for a greater percentage of VGM revenue to be steered from the state to racetracks. But he said that wouldn't happen until NYRA's Aqueduct track and Yonkers Raceway get their racinos operating to create an industry-wide lobbying effort in New York.

But Hartman isn't hopeful Aqueduct will get going anytime soon. "I firmly believe MGM is stalling the project purposely to protect its investment in Atlantic City," he said of MGM Mirage, NYRA's VGM partner at Aqueduct.

NYRA has insisted the operation stalled because MGM wants assurances its contract will last beyond 2007, when NYRA's racetrack franchise could expire. But Hartman called that merely a "convenient excuse" for MGM not to proceed at Aqueduct so it can keep money flowing to its New Jersey casinos.

NYRA chairman Barry Schwartz couldn't be reached for comment.