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18 April 2016
By Gary Trask
Rita Cox is speaking from experience when she says there's a palpable buzz surrounding the Saratoga Casino and Raceway as it puts the finishing touches on a $40 million expansion and inches closer to a July grand opening.
The senior vice president of marketing has been with the property for nearly 13 years and this will be not only the third expansion she has seen come to fruition, but the most lavish and certainly the most important.
"It's a moment we have all been waiting for and something we're all very proud of," Cox told Casino City. "We're hearing so much great feedback from our guests and locals; I think they're just as excited as we are. You really can feel the anticipation in the air."
The centerpiece of the project, which broke ground in May 2015, is a four-star quality, 117-room hotel that, according to Cox, will boast the most "luxurious" guest rooms in the popular summer destination. In addition, the expansion will include a café serving Starbucks coffee, a 3,000 square-foot ballroom, meeting space, pre-function board rooms and conference rooms, and an indoor pool with a Whirlpool spa and fitness room.
Locals have been clamoring to be the first with a reservation to the Morton's The Steakhouse, which will be inside the property and feature a lobby bar area.
"Adding a nationally recognized brand like Morton's really speaks to the level of this expansion and the quality people can expect," beamed Cox, who said that a second national restaurant partner will be named in the coming weeks. "Along with the casino, Morton's really makes us a destination within a destination. The closest restaurant of this kind would be the Ruth's Chris or Morton's down in White Plains, and that's a good 150 miles away, so you can see why the locals are so excited."
The area residents are important to the venue because they have supported it ever since it opened as the standardbred Saratoga Raceway in 1941. It wasn't until 2004 that the property, then named Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, added 1,300 video lottery terminals as part of a build-out that cost $15 million and also updated the track and grandstands.
In 2007 another expansion, worth $20 million, brought a buffet and the Vapor Night Club, plus 400 additional VLTs. Electronic table games like roulette and craps were installed in 2011. Last summer, electronic blackjack and 3-Card Poker machines were added. These have been a boon for the casino, which Cox said is undergoing a rebrand and will announce another "slight" name change within the next two or three weeks.
While much of the racino's traffic comes from New York and New England, it gains an international flair in the summer when the legendary Saratoga Race Course, just across the street from Saratoga Casino and Raceway, is open. The third-largest racetrack in the country, it first started hosting races in 1863 and has a seating capacity of 50,000.
"The summer is our busy time because of the track, and it really brings a wide range of people to the area and we think those people are really going to enjoy having a top-notch hotel to stay at right across the street," said Cox, who added that the hotel has a limo and shuttle that guests use to get to and from the track.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway certainly will need to continue its forward momentum straight through this summer and beyond — because just 45 minutes away, the $330 million Rivers Casino & Resort is under construction and is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2017. The Rush Street Gaming property in Schenectady, New York, will have a 50,000 square foot gaming floor with more than 1,000 slot machines, 63 live gaming tables, a poker room, a spa, a steakhouse, 163 hotel rooms, and one of the largest convention and event spaces in the region.
"We're fully aware that with them coming into the market we are going to need to be on top of our game, and we're more than up for that challenge," Cox said. "The racetrack and the quality of our hotel and amenities are very important because we're confident they give us a competitive edge and still make us a very unique destination that people will want to visit again and again."
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