ALBANY -- Lawmakers have begun to weigh whether to allow table games like poker and blackjack in places like the Saratoga Casino and Raceway - something supporters say could raise billions of dollars in revenue for the cash-strapped state.
A pair of state Senate committees held a joint hearing on the issue Wednesday, a month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state needs to consider expanding its gambling laws.
Among those the panel heard from was the newly created New York Gaming Association, a non-profit group formed to lobby on behalf of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway and eight other video lottery terminal venues across the state.
Association President James Featherstonhaugh said later Wednesday that between $3 billion and $5 billion is wagered each year by New Yorkers who go elsewhere to play table games, which are currently only found in New York in tribe-operated casinos on upstate Native American reservations.
Featherstonhaugh said he told lawmakers a constitutional amendment allowing for table games in the nine racetrack casinos would help recoup that lost gambling money and boost funding for education.
"I think reaction generally has been positive, without any commitments," he said. "People tend to be surprised at how effective the racetrack casinos have been and how much they already contribute to education, agriculture and racing."
Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, said he's open to considering expanding gambling operations, but only if it will not negatively affect thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Race Course.
"Sometimes in the rush to change things, we forget to protect and preserve what's already working," said McDonald, who sits on the state's Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, in a prepared statement. "... Exploring new gaming options is a good thing, but not at the expense of the thoroughbred horse racing industry."
A spokesman for the New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga's thoroughbred track, said the association would not comment on expanding casino gambling Wednesday.
NYRA is poised to receive as much as $27.6 million annually to improve its racetracks - particularly Saratoga - by collecting 4 percent of the revenue generated by thousands of video lottery terminals that will operate at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.
Genting New York LLC was awarded a contract by the state to run the machines, which are seen as vital to ensuring NYRA's solvency. A Genting spokesman, Stefan Freidman, said Genting fully supports the proposal for table games.
According to the Gaming Association, more than 25,000 job applications have been received for 1,300 positions at Aqueduct's casino, which is called Resorts World New York.
The racino at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway already offers some table games in electronic form, said Shawn Harris, the director of video gaming machine operations there.