Saratoga Casino and Raceway

About Saratoga Casino and Raceway

Saratoga Casino and Raceway, also called the Saratoga Racino and formerly known as Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, is a sure bet for fun and excitement while visiting Saratoga Springs.  With over 1,700 video gaming machines, live harness racing, a night club, dining options and more, it's one of the most popular attractions in Saratoga.

What You Need To Know

Gaming: Saratoga Casino and Raceway offers over 1,700 slot machines from top manufacturers, including 200 of the hottest games titles and over 300 of the most exciting themes. Denominations range from $0.01 to $25. For more information visit www.saratogacasino.com/gaming.aspx.

 

Racing: Saratoga Casino and Raceway runs live harness racing from March through December. The schedule varies throughout the season so be sure to check their schedule for more information. Simulcast wagering across the country is available also year round.

Dining: Saratoga Casino and Raceway offers a wide variety of dining from casual to fine dining. For more information about their restaurants visit http://www.saratogacasino.com/Dining.aspx.

Vapor Night Club: Vapor Night Club located inside Saratoga Casino and Raceway offers live music every Friday and Saturday night. For a list of bands and events visit http://www.vapornightclub.com.

You must 18 years of age or older to play video gaming machines or wager on horses. 21 to enter Vapor.

Insider Tips

Join the Player Extras Club to start earning valuable reward based on your play.

You can pay to have a race named for you or your guests - an awesome way to enjoy the action!

Directions

 Take Exit 13N or 14 off I-87. Saratoga Casino and Raceway is located at 342 Jefferson Street in Saratoga Springs.

For more detailed information visit www.saratogacasino.com.

The Harness Track

Sulky racing waxed and waned - and was revived by a casino.

Harness racing developed in the early 19th century from spontaneous matches between the drivers of wagons. It was widely popular. In fact, Saratoga Springs' first organized race featured "The Old Grey Mare" - Lady Suffolk - the greatest trotter of her era, on August 14, 1847. But after 1863, when Saratoga's world-class race meeting for Thoroughbreds was launched, harness racing was eclipsed. Its popularity continued to grow at county fairs and at the New York State Fair, where farmers and other horse owners competed with Standardbreds, the breed best suited to the trotting gait: a shorter, thicker horse with stamina and endurance.

A 1939 state constitutional amendment permitted pari-mutuel racing in New York, and the following year legislation was passed to regulate a pari-mutuel system. It applied to both flat and harness racing and promised a dependable income stream from the bettors to fund purses and generate profits for the track owners.

W. Ellis Gilmour anticipated the potential in harness racing in 1937, when he bought part of the old W.C. Whitney farm on Nelson Avenue from the Grande family. With the pari-mutuel law on the books, Gilmour organized the Saratoga Harness Racing Association and, in early May 1941, began building a beautiful half-mile track.Construction costs were estimated at $260,000 (equivalent to $4,000,000 today), $15,000 of which was for a modern lighting system for night racing. Gilmour and his fellow founders regarded Saratoga as an ideal location, because it was separated from large cities whose poorer residents might be tempted to gamble away their paychecks. The first races of a 27-night season were run June 26, 1941, before a crowd of 4,550. Harness racing was billed as "the sport of the average man," and the opening-night reports said that "shirt sleeves were in evidence throughout the packed grandstand," in contrast to the flat track where coats and ties were obligatory.

In these early days of harness racing as "big sport," prominent personalities were influential. Gilmour had been a classmate of E. Roland Harriman, one of the patrician leaders of the sport, and Harriman joined the Saratoga endeavor. So did Dunbar Bostwick and Elbridge T. Gerry. Frank L. Wiswall, a Loudonville resident and a state senator, was also among the founders. Between wealth and political influence, harness racing's supporters were positioned to develop a successful sports operation. In the second year of racing they scored a coup: they brought to the Saratoga facility a stop on Grand Circuit Racing, a nine-month-long competition matching the top two- and three-year-old Standardbreds.

Wiswall quickly became the force behind Saratoga harness racing. He took over from Gilmour in 1945, and recruited Albany attorney Ernest B. Morris to buy out Gilmour's ownership. But Harriman, Bostwick, and Gerry remained important shareholders, and director's meetings were held in New York at Brown Brothers Harriman, the private bank controlled by Harriman and Gerry families.

Wiswall's timing was perfect. Immediately after the end of the World War II, harness racing began a decade of rapid growth. In 1946, Wiswall upgraded the facilities; he built a new clubhouse, covered and enlarged the grandstand, created a training track along with additional stables, and initiated radio broadcasts of the races. After the mid-1950s, growth slowed, but harness racing held its own through the 1960s.

The tradition of local ownership and management continued under Ernest Morris, who gave up his successful law practice to take over operations in 1963 and brought his son, David, in as general counsel. Ownership was shared with the Harriman and Bostwick families until about 1980. In a $3 million crash remodeling program in 1964-65, Morris created what many regarded as the finest harness racing facility anywhere in the country. A few years later more renown came when, on September 6, 1969, the half-mile world record was broken at Saratoga by Nevele Pride with a time of 1:56.4. The Morrises were champions of the small bettor, believing that a win by a favorite was best for the track because it spread the money into many hands, creating an incentive to return.They were also protective. Ernie Morris didn't want exotic betting, believing it led to corruption. And he was known to have tossed out more than one patron he felt was not handling money wisely. David Morris represented Saratoga and all the state's harness tracks in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the introduction of Off-Track Betting (OTB) in 1971. In that year, daily average attendance was a respectable 4,175 (with an all-time top annual handle of $46.4 million), but in competition with OTB, handle and attendance began to decline; by 1974 attendance was exactly half what it had been. The Morris family doggedly continued their dedication to quality racing. David Morris became full-time track administrator in 1973 and succeeded his father when the elder Morris retired two years later. He introduced winter racing in 1978, and he proposed auxiliary facilities in an attempt to subsidize racing, such as a hotel and a golf course. He even suggested using the property as a site for the City Center. The Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame opened in 1983 on the grounds of the harness track, honoring the great horses and drivers of the sport.

OTB continued to draw spectators and handle away from the tracks and into the betting parlors. Despite the dedication of Morris family to the sport, they seized an opportunity to sell out to an Albany-based syndicate of investors in March of 1987, resulting in Frank Fitzgerald becoming president of the facility. The new owners brought a willingness to cooperate with OTB, and they developed other sources of income, providing stabling for Thoroughbreds from the flat track and adding two polo fields and an outdoor arena, a fine restaurant at The Lodge (formerly the harness track's executive offices), and special events such as concerts; they even attempted to secure city approval for a water park. To demonstrate a broader mision, they changed the facility's name in 1995 to Saratoga Equine Sports Center. With later additions including a sports bar and grandstand workstations, receipts jumped from an average of $100,000 per night in 1999 to nearly $250,000 per night in 2000.

But the continued decline in attendance and on-track handle was finally addressed in legislation, passed late in 2001, allowing Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) at harness tracks in New York state, an innovation approved by Saratoga County in 2002. Heavy infrastructure investment followed. By the end of the following year, the facility had been renamed Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, and 1,400 VLTs were in use. The operation took off. In 2004, new buildings added 100,000 square feet to the plant to accommodate the gaming, and a further expansion in 2007 added 400 new machines.

But it's the explosion of gaming revenue that has made Saratoga Gaming and Raceway into a 21st century phenomenon. At the end of a legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was able to secure over $3 million in VLT revenues for the city. The funding continued into 2009 when a new state administration abolished the mandate. Despite that loss, the facility's annual impact on the Saratoga County economy in 2007 was estimated at $115.8 million and such high numbers continue to benefit us all.

Prior to the introduction of VLT's at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway in January of 2004, there were just 129 days of live harness racing in 2003 with total purses pegged at $2.9 million. In 2012, there will be 170 days of live harness racing with the local horsemen competing for over $15 million in purse money. Purses wil average about $88,000 per program for the season and will be augmented by another $2,000,000 in purse money dedicated to New York bred pacers and trotters competing at Saratoga in the prestigious New York Sire Stakes program.

In 2011, Saratoga Gaming and Raceway was given permission by the New York State Lottery to change its name to Saratoga Casino and Raceway. The facility currently has 622 employees and a payroll of over $16 million. Taking into account its direct operations and contributions to state and local government, Saratoga Casino and Raceway accounts for over $150 million in economic impact to Saratoga County and the State of New York through operations.