doldrums along the Mohawk (and, an undertow, too)

The press has told us that revenues are up significantly the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year (see our posting). So, I was somewhat surprised this afternoon looking at the Gross Gaming Revenue figures for the first three full weeks of July 2018: Despite a 17% increase in Slots/ETG GGR, the Total GGR was down 9.5% compared to the same period of 2017 ($9,475,893), while Table Game GGR fell a remarkable 53%. Click for the Rivers Casino Weekly Revenue Report. And, click to see a chart of the numbers for the first three weeks of July in 2017 and 2018.

RiversGGR-CompareJuly2018 full-month follow-up (August 4, 2018): Rivers Casino Gross Gaming Revenue numbers for the week ending July 30, 2018 were posted today, allowing us to tally the full comparison of the two Julys at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino. The numbers and totals can be seen on this chart. Here’s the summary:

The Gross Gaming Numbers at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor for July 2018 were:

  • in Total, at $11,644,566, down 3.3% over July 2017
  • for Slots/ETG, at $8,574,114, up 19.4% over July 2017
  • for Poker Tables, at $454,123, up 9.5% over July 2017
  • for Table Games, at $2,616,325, down 41.1% over July 2017

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questiondudequestionmarkkeyRed Moreover, revenue so far in for the full month of July 2018 was down 3.3% over July 2017, despite:

  • the opening of the 200-unit River House apartments in August 2017 at Mohawk Harbor
  • MHMarina-Amphi3Jul2018the availability for the summer boating season of Mohawk Harbor Marina, which was opened in November 2017.
  • opening of the Harbor Amphitheater, and presentation of free Harbor Jam concerts this summer at the Marina every Saturday night since June 23. And, note this follow-up (Aug. 2, 2018): In today’s Gazette article “Harbor Jam heats up in Schenectady: Free outdoor concert series is packing them in at Mohawk Harbor” (at 8 of the Ticket section, by Indiana Nash),  are told: “The series has drawn more people into the casino as well as to places like Druthers Brewery and Restaurant, which is located on Harborside Drive.” In the print edition, the sub-headline states “Fans flock to free series, helping casino, restaurants.”
  • another big crowd for a set of impressive Fourth of July Fireworks
  • MHDruthers30May2018 the much-publicized and anticipated opening of Druthers Brewing Co. at Mohawk Harbor on June 21
  • The Casino’s Landing Hotel being open the entire month of July (only a week last year)
  • The installation of a “CYCLE!” bike-share station at Mohawk Harbor
  • MohHarb30ftPylonthe erection of a giant (30′ by 18′) shopping-mall style pylon sign, with large and bright LCD screen, advertising the Casino and many amenities of Mohawk Harbor, at the intersection of Mohawk Harbor Way and Erie Blvd.

DiscoverSchenectadyLogo In addition, the new Schenectady County Tourism and Convention Bureau, has been active all year, with a budget over $400,000. The Tourism Bureau, with its Discover Schenectady website, puts a lot of stress on Schenectady’s Casino, giving it its own “Casinos” Category (and related webpage) on the Things To Do pull-down menu. The Casino’s Convention Center is also a focus of Bureau activity. It is funded with Schenectady County’s recently-raised room occupancy tax and other sources, including the state’s “I Love NY” program.

  • The Board of the Convention and Tourism Bureau, naturally, includes representatives of the Casino, and its business partners, and Mohawk Harbor. The vice president is Brooke Spraragen, director of project planning at The Galesi Group, the developers of Mohawk Harbor, and owner of the land under the Casino parcel.

redflag-circle Our July 16, 2018 posting noted that the increase in gambling revenue at Rivers for the 2nd Quarter of 2018 came totally from Slots and Electronic Table Games. We need to raise a red flag about just whose money is floating Rivers’ boat and helping to fill the tax coffers of the City and County of Schenectady. Many detractors of casinos, especially casinos in urban areas, fear that a worrisome percentage of slots dollars come from local problem gamblers, and the most vulnerable members of our society, not from traveling high-rollers or members of the comfortable middle class simply spending disposable leisure dollars. For example, the Report Why Casinos Matter states that:

Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so.

If such concerns are valid, cheerleaders celebrating increased revenues at our Casino might want to pause to ask about the potential social costs of choosing to base our financial policy on such regressive taxation. As MIT professor Natasha Dow Schüll, author of Addiction by Design, wrote in the New York Times (Oct. 10, 2013): 

Surely, civic leaders looking to close budget gaps can find more ethical alternatives than capitalizing on such traps.

Ms. Schüll also noted: “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.” That “has to do with the solitary, continuous, rapid wagering they enable. It is possible to complete a game every three to four seconds, with no delay between one game and the next. Some machine gamblers become so caught up in the rhythm of play that it dampens their awareness of space, time and monetary value.”

  • DownGraphPeople One number that jumped out at me from the Rivers Casino report for this past week, ending July 23, 2018, is the total GGR from Table Games: $225,435. That is by far the worst week yet for Table Games at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino. It is 46% lower than the prior worst Table Games week, and one-ninth the take of the best Table Games week at Rivers Casino ($2,039,456). With slots use rising and table games flat or declining, it is more and more difficult to accept the notion we get from Rush Street and our City Hall that people see Rivers Casino as a Destination Resort.
  • MGMSpringfield-renderMGMSpringfield-rend2  And, speaking of destination resorts and trouble ahead, see the Times Union “New competition for Capital Region gambling dollars(by David Lombard, July 26, 2018), an article about MGM Springfield, the almost-billion-dollar casino opening August 24th, just 100 miles away in Western Massachusetts, and already being advertised heavily on local tv as a true Las Vegas-style casino
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Slots

 follow-up (Sunday, August 5, 2018): Sara Foss has again used her Gazette column to raise the issue of the social cost of casino revenues on gamblers and our community. See “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018). The column notes a 21.8 percent increase in slots revenue from February through June 2018 from the same time period during 2017.  Sara then states: “This is an impressive increase, but here’s the thing: Slots are highly addictive.”

Sara also quotes Phil Rainer, director of clinical services at The Center for Problem Gambling in Albany, saying “I find slots particularly deplorable.” Sara concludes by saying:

But I find it difficult to celebrate the boom times at Rivers’ slot machines.

For most people, playing the slots is harmless entertainment.

But for others, it’s a huge waste of time and money.

Local governments might reap the benefits of an increase in gaming revenue. But the social costs that go along with it shouldn’t be ignored.

Tellingly, Sara Foss says (emphasis added):

Now that [the Rivers Casino is] here, I want it to be a success. 

But it isn’t always clear to me what that means, because a casino isn’t a benign presence

Similarly, from my own point of view, it is difficult to come up with a formula that attempts to wish the Casino well in growing its gaming revenue (and keeping its employees employed), while somehow limiting the additional injury caused by problem gambling.  I wish we could figure out a way to improve gambling revenues with the least damage to the community.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 11.21.31 AM The ability to attract more non-slot gamblers might be a benefit in several ways:
  1. If they are from out of town and stay overnight, they add sales tax revenues (sales, food & beverage, room occupancy)
  2. Also, if from out of town, they do not steal Leisure Dollars from other local businesses {the “Substitution Effect”); and,
  3. If Table Game players are in general less poor than Slots players, and not on fixed-incomes, they are less likely to wreck havoc on family budgets and tranquility, and to increase the need for more social services.

PGAMlogoEVERY One thing for sure: Our community (and perhaps especially our schools) needs Problem Gambling Education and Prevention Programs. New York State has promised a small amount of funding for such programs, but — unlike other NYS communities with casinos — neither the City nor County of Schenectady has done so. See, for example, our posting here.

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For more on the very predictable dilemma Schenectady faces trying to protect the community from the negative effects of Rivers Casino, and especially the growing reliance on slots dollars, see our post “Slotsification on the Mohawk” (July 13, 2018).

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