how is Rivers improving its numbers?

Schenectady Gazette business editor John Cropley wrote an article today describing the improved financial numbers coming from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor for the first six months of 2018, compared to 2017. See “Rivers Casino financials improve in first half of 2018“, July 16, 2018) Cropley tells us:

abacus Halfway through 2018, Rivers Casino & Resort is showing improved financial performance, with revenue in every month so far this year stronger than in the same month of 2017.

The facility, which opened on the Schenectady waterfront in February 2017, reported gross gaming revenue — money gambled minus winnings paid to gamblers — was up 15 percent for the February-June 2018 period.

Taxes paid on the gross gaming revenue in February-June 2018 were up 19.7 percent from the same period in 2017.

If Casino revenues continue at this pace for the entire year, Schenectady’s reduced projection of its casino income for 2018 — $2.3 million in gaming tax dollars from the State — will be met.  [For background, see our posting “Casino Reality vs. Casino Projections“; and “TU compares casino revenue reality to casino projections“.]

NoComment-thanks My curiosity was piqued, of course, when I saw these words in today’s Gazette article:

 Officials at Rivers would not comment on what the casino has been doing to improve its financial performance.

GGR-Apr-JunCompare

That got me wondering what they are hiding, since simply saying something like “we’re advertising more and doing more promotions”, or similar explanations, would not be compromising their competitive position by leaking trade secrets. Several possible reasons came to mind, and related questions led me to look at some of the Rivers casino revenue figures from 2017 and 2018. I focused on the past three months of 2018, April through June, and the same period for 2017. (I hope that journalists or policy wonks with better tools and incentives than I will want to compare all the available months.) Click the image to the right above to see the figures for April to June; and click this link to do your own number crunching: Rivers Casino Weekly Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) figures.

As a result of my dipping into the Rivers GGR numbers, I learned that, for the second quarter of 2018, the 14 weeks from April through June, as compared to the same period from 2017:

  • Total GGR was up just over 18%
  • GGR from Slots/ETGs was up almost 33%
  • GGR from Table Games was down about 1%

The Slots increase is, therefore, driving the improved 2018 numbers on the Mohawk. There is no obvious reason to expect the trend the rest of the year is or will be significantly different.

senior-playing-slots As we reported here, 63.6% of total GGR in 2017 at Rivers Casino Schenectady was from slots and electronic table games. It appears that an even larger percentage will come from slots in 2018.  Dependence on Slots GGR almost certainly means that Rivers is not attracting high-rollers from distance places, but is instead counting on a very local market and more than casual customers. And, while we know that not every slots player is a senior citizen, and many seniors are quite savvy about gambling and its risks, researchers tell us that senior are particularly susceptible to casino pitches, while being less likely to seek help for problem gambling symptoms. Moreover, our prior remarks seem pertinent still:

Thanks, Gramps! [B]ecause Slot revenues are taxed at 45%, but table and poker revenues at 10%, slot players are transferring their money to the State, County and City to reduce our taxes to a much higher degree than Table Game players. Indeed, about 89% of the gambling tax paid by Rivers Casino [in its first year came] from slot dollars. If slots are mostly played by senior citizens, any local tax break is mainly being paid for by Grandma and Grandpa, and Auntie Tillie (and, of course, other vulnerable groups, such as the poor).

In addition, reporting by Times Union “data journalist” Cathleen Crowley suggests another potentially disturbing factor related to reliance on slots for increased GGR: Rivers Casino may be paying out too little to its slots players. See “This is how much the casinos are making from slots, poker and table games” (Times Union, Cathleen F. Crowley, Sept. 24, 2017). According to the TU article, Rivers has far more money at the end of the day in each slot machine [“win per unit”] than its Upstate competitors: $222 earned per day for Rivers; $197 for Tioga Downs; $155 for del Lago, while the Las Vegas average win per slot machine in 2016 was $209. Here’s a chart from the Times Union (click on it for a larger version) that makes the point:

TU-DailySlotRevs

  • Looking at the Win Per Unit over the same three-month time period, the average per week went from 191.28 from April-June in 2017, to 252.85 for those months in 2018.

So, it seems Rivers is bringing in more of the type of player who plays slots and ETGs (Electronic Table Games), or getting them to sit longer and visit more, and is paying out less on Slots/ETGs than other casinos. Has the mix between Slots and ETGs change significantly? Is Rivers working harder at bringing folks in from Senior Centers or churches? Is “grandma” paying even more this year for our gaming tax revenues, while waiting to see how much Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Council will cut her property taxes?

It seems the moaning we hear and read about the poor returns from slots at Rivers may be warranted. How long can that go on? Is this why Rivers does not want to talk about how it gets its increased GGR? As always, if we have gotten this wrong or even slightly askew, we hope the folks at Rivers Casino or other experts will explain it to us, so we can fine-tune, reconsider, explain it better. 

01_sm0714_cover107-border

For background on how slot machine revenues might be optimized, see “Management” (by A. Cardno and R. Thomas, from Slot Management & Marketing Magazine). The authors suggest that a high WPU [win per unit] may be problematic from the player’s perspective.

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ooh update (July 20, 2018): The GGR for the week ending July 15, 2018, $2,709,766, is the worst since the week ending April 1, 2018. And, it is 30% lower than the GGR for the week ending July 16, 2017, which was $3,882,454, although Slots revenue last week was up 10% from the corresponding week in 2017.

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