a slow week at Mohawk Harbor?

Amphitheater, 3 PM Memorial Day

 Quick online searching* confirmed my assumption that casino resorts would be among the most popular destinations for America’s millions of travelers over the Memorial Day Weekend. So, given a refreshing breeze and blue skies, I was a little surprised by how few people were out and about at Mohawk Harbor mid-afternoon on Memorial Day. I had stopped by to catch the tail end of the Rollin’ on the River Car Show and Auction, hosted by Rivers Casino, and then spent about an hour sitting and strolling around the grounds and taking photos.

During my visit on Memorial Day:

  • There was only one boat docked in the Marina the entire time. [The same was true on my return the next day; however, on May 30, there were three boats docked, the most I have ever seen in the Marina.]
  • No kayaks appeared to be checked out [ditto May 29, 30]
  • No one else used any of the picnic tables or played on the large lawns between the River House and the Casino
  • A few pairs of bicyclists and a couple of dog walkers used the mixed-used path that runs through Mohawk Harbor, but I saw none of them stop while traversing Mohawk Harbor.
  • No one spread a blanket or sat at the lovely, manicured Amphitheater, despite its unobstructed view of the Marina.

CasinoRevs01Jun2018 Perhaps all the Holiday Weekend trekkers had already started their return trips home, or were squeezing in one last cook-out at a relative’s or friend’s backyard. It made me wonder, though, how much gaming action had been going on at Rivers Casino over the weekend. The weather on Saturday and Sunday had enough rain in the forecast to motivate indoors activity such as that found inside the Casino. So, I checked out the weekly Revenues report for Rivers Casino that went online yesterday, Friday June 1st. However, as you can see by clicking on the image to the left of this paragraph, last week Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor had its worst week for gaming revenues since the end of March, with a total GGR of $2,876,146 for the week ending Sunday May 27, 2018.

If you have not spent time on the greener side of Mohawk Harbor, you might enjoy this Slideshow, which has photos taken May 28, 29 and 30, 2018.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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view north toward River from Amphitheater

*/According to the AAA, the draw of gambling made Las Vegas NV the 4th most chosen destination for Memorial Day Weekend. 2018. Gambling hubs such as Denver and Phoenix were also in the top ten destinations list for the holiday weekend.

 coming in June, Druther’s at River House . . MHDruthers30May2018

SPORTS BETTING along the Mohawk (with updates)

 This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which dates back to 1992, and is known as PASPA.  PAPSA prohibited most States, including NJ and NY, from allowing sports betting. For a good analysis of the decision (understandable for the non-lawyer) see the premier weblog covering the Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog, “Opinion Analysis: Justices strike down federal sports gambling law“. The Court decision is called Murphy [as Governor of New Jersey] v. NCAA; click here for a pdf. version of the full opinion.

This website will surely treat this topic again, to see how it impacts NYS and especially commercial casinos such as Rives Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Two important points (and see the Red Check below for updated information from theTimes Union):

  • Under the current gaming law, only full casinos may offer sports betting once it is legal under federal law. They must get a specific license for that. “Racinos”, such as the Saratoga Casino, already have let it be known that they want a law letting them do it, too.
  • Under the current NYS Gaming Law, slot machine revenues at Rivers Casino are taxed at a 45% rate, and any other type of gaming revenues are taxed at 10%.  And, according to the Times Union, “State Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee Chair John Bonacic carries legislation that would  . . . impose a state tax of 8.5 percent on sports wagering gross revenue.” So, if Rivers Casino slots players move a significant amount of their money over to the Casino’s Sports Betting lounge, or another Sports Wagering location (including online offerings), tax revenues from Rivers may decline, despite more betting go on at the Casino. Naturally, Rivers Casino hopes to lure sports bettors into other parts of the Casino, adding to gaming revenues.

Before 11 AM today, the Albany Times Union put online a good, short explanation on the possible impact on NYS casinos and racinos, in “Supreme Court ruling opens prospect of NY sports gamblingFour major NY casinos may be able to offer sports books” (by David Lombardo, online May 14, 2018). Here are excerpts from the TU article: 

The state law that allowed commercial live-table casinos in New York included a provision authorizing wagering on sporting events if the federal law was found unconstitutional or changed. Casinos must have a license specifically to offer sports gambling and gambling on sports can only be offered in “lounge” areas at a casino.
. . . Under current law, gambling operators besides the commercial live-table casinos, such as NYRA, the Saratoga Casino Hotel and Capital OTB, would be shut out from offering sports betting. But legislation from Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican and chair of the state Senate’s racing committee, would allow those operators to act as affiliates to the casinos and offer sports wagering.
. . James Featherstonhaugh, a minority owner in Saratoga Casino Hotel, anticipated the state Legislature could begin working on legislation addressing sports gambling this week.
 “I would expect it to be a lively topic between now and the end of the legislative session,” he said.
red check update (May 14, 2018, 7 PM): The Times Union has updated it article significantly, changing its subheadline to “State legislature will likely overhaul gambling landscape”, and reporting that
  1. “Gambling operators and state legislators in New York are scrambling to craft a new regulatory framework”
  2. ” The state Gaming Commission must also adopt regulations and issue a sports gambling license before the casinos could offer sports wagering. That process will likely be preempted by the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. . .Cuomo, speaking to reporters in Manhattan on Monday, rejected the idea that sports gambling in New York could be rolled out using the broad framework crafted in 2013. He said a new law was needed if the state wanted to proceed with sports gambling.” “We’ll do an economic analysis and a legal analysis, but nothing’s going to happen this year because there’s literally just a number of days left in the legislative session and this would be a very, very big issue to tackle,” Cuomo said.
  3.  The only local player with the potential to offer sports gambling under current law is the Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady, which has been eagerly preparing for the Supreme Court decision, according to their parent company, Rush Street Gaming.”We look forward to adding sports betting across all our gaming platforms as soon as possible,” Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin said in a statement.
  4. State Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee Chair John Bonacic carries legislation that would allow for sports gambling on online platforms, impose a state tax of 8.5 percent on sports wagering gross revenue, collect fees for the operators of sports leagues, and authorize gambling on college sports.

follow-up (1 AM, May 15, 2018): The Schenectady Gazette put up a comprehensive piece online this evening. See “Sports betting legalized, will be added in Schenectady as soon as possible“, by John Cropley.  In the article, both Greg Carlin of Rush Street Gaming and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy say they want to bring sports betting to Schenectady as soon as possible. In a comment to the Gazette article, I raised the same theme as above on the questionable size of any increase in overall tax revenues to be paid by Rivers:

[Comment by David Giacalone:] Mayor McCarthy is already counting chickens early and praying for golden eggs. If enough slots betting (taxed at 45%) is instead bet on sports (taxed at 5 or 8.5 or 10%), taxes paid by Rivers Casino to the State may amount to a lot less than expected, even if Rivers revenues rise. Grandpa and Uncle Joe might just head for the Sports Wagering Lounge at Rivers, leaving Grandma and Aunt Tillie at the slots; or, all four of them might decide that sports wagering can be a lot more stimulating than a slots trance. As a result, former slots players might generate a lot less tax revenue even though visiting Rivers Casino as often as before.

I know why Rivers Casino wants to start sports wagering ASAP, but I am not so sure why the Mayor of Schenectady is in such a big hurry.

  • In a related matter, in case you missed the news, as of May 4, 2018, Capital OTB now has a branch inside Van Slyck’s Bar at Rivers Casino.
update (July 17, 2018): David Lombardo of the Times Union Capitol Confidential Blog posted a piece yesterday afternoon titled “State looks to offer online sports gambling without new law” (July 16, 2018).  That position by the State Gaming Commission is contrary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stated preference in May. Commission acting-Executive Director Ron Ochrym said to the board. “There are however, a number of thorny policy [areas] that staff have been considering, including whether the existing law can be read so as to authorize mobile wagering without new statutory enactments, and, if so, whether to limit the number of skins available.” The TU blog notes that the State law reads: “An operator shall accept wagers on sports events only from persons physically present in the sports wagering lounge”.
  • And see, “New York preps limited rollout of sports betting” (Times Union, August 8, 2018, by David Lombardo). “The state Gaming Commission is working on regulations that would make sports gambling available at New York’s four privately run full-scale casinos, including Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady.

    SlicingThePie “But beyond the casinos, sports gambling probably won’t initially be allowed at other wagering-industry operations, such as the New York Racing Association tracks or the Saratoga Casino Hotel. It’s also unlikely to be available on mobile platforms, according to state Sen. John Bonacic. . . .  It’s not clear when those draft regulations will be publicized, even though [Gaming Commission acting-Executive Director Ron Ochrym] said at the commission’s May meeting that they would be available ‘in the near term. The consensus of the gambling community in New York is that the commission is waiting for a green light from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to release the regulations.”

.
BTW: Amy Howe’s analysis for SCOTUSblog points out that:

Today’s ruling could also have a much broader reach, potentially affecting a range of topics that bear little resemblance to sports betting. For example, supporters of so-called “sanctuary cities” – cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws – have cited the 10th Amendment in recent challenges to the federal government’s efforts to implement conditions on grants for state and local law enforcement. Challenges to the federal government’s recent efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for either recreational or medical use may also be based on the 10th Amendment.

a quick look at del Lago’s exterior

 . . 

. .  above: main entrance to [L] del Lago Casino; [R] Rivers Casino Schenectady

Driving back to Schenectady the day after Easter, I noticed that del Lago Resort & Casino is located right at Exit 41 of the New York Thruway, at Waterloo, NY, in Seneca County. Having only seen renderings of del Lago, when concluding it looked considerably more attractive than Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, I thought I’d take the opportunity to stretch my legs and take a few photos of the exterior of del Lago in the brick-and-mortar world.

delLagoHotelRear

. . above: rear of del Lago Hotel and side entrance of Casino

You can judge for yourself from the two collages below (click on each for larger versions), one of which concentrates on the Casinos and one on the Hotels and Parking Ramps, how the $440 million spent on del Lago turned out, on the outside, compared to the $320 million to build Rivers Casino in Schenectady. A few additional images are also included after the collages. (You might note that del Lago appears to have no large, bright LCD screen or freestanding pylon.)

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Here are two more views of the del Lago Hotel:

IMG_6681 . . IMG_6679

 . . . And, two views of the rear entrance to the del Lago Casino:

IMG_6696  . . IMG_6694

Plus, the del Lago entry/exit driveway, at 1133 State Route 414, seen from near the self-park lot:

. . IMG_6667 . .

IMG_6669

IMG_6666

UpstateNYMap2018

  • Distances. Del Lago is 43 miles from Syracuse, 50 miles from Rochester, 90 miles from Utica, 95 miles from Binghamton, 105 miles from Watertown, 112 mlies from Buffalo, and 156 miles from Schenectady. In an Appendix at the bottom of my Casino Choices posting from January 2017, I have compiled the distances of the various casinos from Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Kingston, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, and Utica. 

IMG_6673

bum’s Rush needed

. . “get dose bums outta here!” . . 

 And, so it begins: “Rivers, Del Lago casinos ask state for better terms: All four non-Indian casinos in state are missing their financial targets” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by John CropleyMarch 28, 2018):

 Little more than a year since their grand openings, two of New York’s four non-Indian casinos are asking the state for financial help.

Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady and Del Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County are both making their cases with state lawmakers as the negotiations for the 2018-2019 state budget wind down to the final hours in Albany.

Details on their requests are elusive and, given the secretive nature of deal-making in the Capitol, quite possibly subject to change or outright rejection.

. . . Details were likewise hazy on the request by Rivers.

 A New Jersey public relations agency working for Rivers said there would be no comment on the matter.

A lobbyist reportedly working for the casinos did not return a call seeking comment.

. . . However, Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, whose district contains Rivers Casino & Resort, said he has been given a rough idea of what Rivers is requesting, and said he endorses it.

Trying to save Schenectady’s Lady Liberty from pols and pirates is monopolizing my time again today, so I can’t go into detail about taxpayers getting the Bum’s Rush from Rush Street, but it probably makes more sense to see what, if anything, is done with their request. [see update below: Cuomo won’t play]

Here is what I said in a comment at the Gazette article:

 On July 14, 2014, we asked at the “Stop the Schenectady Casino” weblog: “How big of a gamble are the casino cheerleaders willing to take?. . . Does the shiny future they predict for Schenectady include the sight of a failing casino project along Schenectady’s riverfront and the inevitable request for tax breaks and financial assistance that we can expect once gaming revenues shrink along the Mohawk? [see https://tinyurl.com/unpromisingCasino ]

When Rivers hired Rob Long as its new General Manager last December, we also noted that Long had guided the development and opening of Rush Street’s very first casino, Riverwalk in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Rush Street sold that Casino in 2012, just four years after it opened, and after failing in their request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment. Have Rush Street and Galesi Group drawn up their tax assessment challenges yet? Are they looking for a buyer? What will Mr. Steck do for them next?

In addition to checking out https://tinyurl.com/unpromisingCasino, see “casino projections vs. casino reality” and links therein. Stay tuned, and watch out for those pick-pockets and Rushing Bums.

red check update (4 PM, March 28, 2018):  See “Cuomo says he is not interested in bailing out casinos” (State Of Politics. March 28, 2918). Article also has letter from State Senator Micheal Ranzenhofer, wanting help for existing casinos hurt by creating del Lago Casino, not for del Lago.

[8PM update] See “Cuomo: No bailout for Rivers, del Lago casinos” (Gazette, John Cropley, March 28, 2018).

There are many others in this state that aren’t getting what they need and that deserve more money from the state — many others in severe need through no fault of their own.

The casinos don’t fall into that category, and state lawmakers shouldn’t cave in to their appeals.

[March 29 update:] In the TU article “Casino seeks state help in marketing” (Sept. 29, 2018), Assemblyman Phil Steck is far from elegant defending Rivers Casino request for a 10% marketing allowance reduction in its gaming tax obligations to the State:

“It’s not saying, ‘State, come in and give us money’; it’s saying, ‘We believe we need to expand the market for our product, we need an allowance for marketing,’ and I think that’s a reasonable position for a business to take,” said Steck, a Democratic lawmaker from Colonie, of the request by the Schenectady casino, which is located on the former Alco site on Erie Boulevard.

“What they’re saying is, ‘If we spend 10 cents on marketing instead of giving you 100 cents on that dollar, we’re going to give you 90 cents,’ and that makes a lot of sense because if the total amount of revenue expands as a result of their marketing effort, the state’s going to make more money anyway and so will the city,” Steck said.

The article continues, making Steck sound rather conflicted:

“While Steck declined to call the request by Rivers a bailout, he conceded he is not a big fan of casinos, arguing they are a tax on the poor and middle class.”

Moreover, good luck figuring out what State. Senator Jim Tedisco is thinking:

State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said that since Cuomo “has seemingly closed the door to any tax adjustment,” he believes “a more plausible approach would be to ask for marketing assistance with also a good portion to go toward property tax reduction for Schenectady and surrounding communities.”

  • TUJBoyerTaxGamble update (March 30, 2018): The Times Union editorial board weighed in this morning with “Editorial: Say no to casino subsidies“, including a nifty illustration by Jeff Boyer [click on the thumbnail to the left]. It notes which of our representatives are for and against such handouts, and concludes:

All the signs were there years ago that the casino expectations and promises, especially upstate, were overblown. Now that those warnings are proving true, these enterprises seem to hope New York will behave like a classic loser who digs deeper into his pockets in the hope of a winning hand. There’s a gambling term state leaders would do well to learn: Pass.

Rivers anniversary hoopla yields so-so results

front page Gazette ad

 You have probably seen or heard the newspaper and digital advertising blitz and all the media coverage the past couple of weeks for the 1st Anniversary of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. [click on image to the right for a sample] The Anniversary occurred on February 8, and is being celebrated at the Casino throughout February, with drawings for free cars, special entertainment, and more. Yesterday afternoon (Friday, Feb. 16), I checked the NYS Gaming Commission website to see if promotions for last week’s big Anniversary-cum-weekend have meant better gaming revenues for Rivers for the week ending February 11. After its disappointing shortfall from projected GRR in its first full year, the ability to create some Anniversary excitement might suggest whether our municipal leaders are correct about the coming of a better year.

 The total Gross Gaming Revenue for the week ending last Sunday was $3,232,728. That makes Anniversary Week the 5th best week since the opening of Rivers Casino. Naturally, its owner-management, Rush Street Gaming, will say they are delighted with that figure, even after considering all the promotional and entertainment expenses. To me, the results seem rather “so-so” [“mezza mezza”] as Celebrations of a treasured community asset go. Underwhelming. [update (Feb. 23, 2018): GGR for the next Anniversary week, ending 02/18/2018, went down slightly, amounting to $3,221,484, making it Rivers’ 6th best week in Schenectady.]

To put a $3.2 million Anniversary Week into perspective:

  • Averaging $3.2 million over all 52 weeks would yield $168 million total GGR for the year.
  • $168 million is only 83% of the $201.9 million Rivers Casino projected as its base first-year estimate for GGR. (see “Casino bets are off the mark”, Albany Times Union, by Lauren Stanforth).
  • $3.2 million is $600,000 less that the Casino’s best week ($3,882,454) which ended on July 16, 2017. [It would take 52 $3.88 million weeks to achieve the base year projection of approximately $202 million.]

 Was It the Weather? Rush Street Gaming can’t blame weather for its Anniversary Week results. It was a normal-moderate Schenectady early February week, with one snowfall of 7 inches starting on February 7, but streets cleared by early on the 8th, and moderate weather through the weekend.

 Meanwhile, how did the new competition in the Catskills — Resorts World Catskill in Monticello,  NY — do in its “soft” opening week? RWCatskills had an early, soft opening on February 8, to prepare for this weekend’s celebration of Chinese New Year, with its hopeful influx of high-rollers from the other Far East. According it its NYS Gaming Commission Financial Report: the total for its 4-day first week was $3,403,955. Over its first 53 weeks, Rivers Casino in Schenectady has had only 4 weeks better than RWCatskills’ first, four-day week.

  • We will report back at the end of next week on RWCatskills’ second week, which will include three days of the Chinese New Year celebration. [see next bullet note]
  • RWCatskillsChineseNY update re Chinese New Year (Feb. 23, 2018): Resorts World Catskills has announced that it will hold its Chinese New Year Celebration on September 25, 2018.  Its press release describes aspects of the Celebration, and also its attempts to serve the Asian gaming market, as well as the multi-cultural communities in New York City (with many bus lines offering service to the Catskills Casino from NYC locations).  More information is available on the RWCatskills Facebook Page.

.  If you’d like to see why many observers say that the new Catskills Casino has a “wow factor”, including a 19-story hotel that serves as a palette that reflects its changing surroundings, that sets it apart from Schenectady’s casino, check out RecordOnline.com’s “Exclusive behind the scenes video tour of Resorts World Catskills” (Feb. 6, 2018, 8 min.).

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just another February 8

. . this time last year I declared February 8 to be “a date that shall live in infamy in Schenectady“, given the 1690 Schenectady Massacre and the 2017 opening of Rivers Casino on that date, with a graphic depiction of the infamy notion:

 This year, on February 8, 2018, I thought I’d get a photo of Rivers Casino and its LCD screen’s 1st Anniversary image, to use in an anniversary posting. The result was an interesting adventure, but not a great photo-shoot. [See, e.g., the photo at the left, necessarily taken from a block away.] You see, as described in the Collage below (click on it for a larger version), I got the bum’s-Rush off the premises. Casino personnel were, however, polite, although insistent that no photos were permitted from Casino property and, furthermore, that the corner of Rush Street and Front Street was casino property, calling it their “walkway”.

. . above collage: the story of My Casino Anniversary Visit . . 

 Back at home, I emailed SPD Chief Eric Clifford asking that he let the Casino know that the Front Street sidewalk was part of the City right of way. But, the Chief wrote back that night that he believed the Casino was correct, and even the Front St. sidewalk was casino property. Naturally, I was puzzled and disappointed, and was glad I had not forced Casino Security that afternoon to call SPD, if they wanted to remove me from a City street. Happily, as he promised me he would, the Chief inquired of the City Engineer the next morning and was told: “the city now assumes control of the sidewalks.” (Earlier that morning, Councilman Vince Riggi had sent me a copy of the September 12, 2016 Resolution authorizing the Mayor to accept the roadways in Mohawk Harbor back from the developer.) The Chief called Kyle Bond, head of Rivers Casino Security, with that message, and Mr. Bond then phoned me to apologize. I assured him that his men had behaved politely.

 The Casino’s 1st Anniversary Wheels Or Fortune contest, began on February 1, with patrons able to earn points toward contest entries. I’m not sure if the Contest brought in additional gaming revenue, but the Rivers GGR for the week ending February 4 continued to be mediocre, a mere $2,738,900.

This morning (Feb. 10, 2018), the Times Union reported online on the first full 12 months of revenue at Rivers Casino and at del Lago and Tioga Downs the two other commercial casinos granted licenses . “Casino bets are off the mark” (by Lauren Stanforth):

The year-end revenue totals for the state’s first resort-style casinos, del Lago, Rivers and Tioga Downs, show they were $192 million off the projections they made when applying for their state casino licenses in 2014. . . .

Rivers in Schenectady did better [than del Lago, which also opened in Feb. 2017], but was still about 30 percent off its projection made four years ago — with total revenues of $141 million as of Feb. 4, compared to a base first-year estimate of $201.9 million.

More February 8 Bad Luck for Schenectady?  Again this year, February 8 might yet mean more misfortune for Schenectady, or at least its Tax Coffers. Like our weblog, the mainstream media has mentioned over the past few weeks that the February 8 opening of the billion-dollar Resorts World Catskills Casino [moved up to attract East Asian high-rollers for Chinese New Year, on Feb. 16] might mean that even more prospective Schenectady Casino patrons will choose to stay away — especially those who live closer to the new Monticello Catskills Casino, or those wanting a true tourist or gambling destination.

In approaching Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on Feb. 8 for my aborted photoshoot, I was again struck by how unattractive and uninspiring Schenectady’s Casino building is when entering the compound. On arrival at its main entrance from Rush Street, a visitor sees a two-story branding wall with large LCD screens and bright “yellow brick” trim, flanking a nondescript entryway. If you come in from the southwest, you see that the branding wall is a fake wall, adding to the lack of awe. I’ve said it before: Schenectady could have and should have demanded more, especially from an Applicant that boasted of creating destination locations and casinos.

. .   . . 

. . above: approaching Rivers Casino . .

CatskillsCasinoRend2 Taste is, of course, very subjective. But, I’m willing to bet that a far broader and deeper demographic would be more likely to choose Resorts World Catskills Casino as a special destination for gaming or as a tourist than Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. And, would be more likely to return to it. Here are two recent photos of of the approach to the Catskills Casino [see many more images here]:

. .   . .  

. . above: approaching Resorts World Catskill Casino . .

 Two-thirds of a Casino.  Earlier this week, we reported that Rivers Casino had a Patron Visits shortfall as severe as its revenues shortfall, achieving (according to its numbers) only 67% of its projection. This does not bode well for the Casino having a significant ripple effect across Schenectady businesses and attractions; but, does increase the worry that Mohawk Harbor and its Casino might be cannibalizing the leisure and entertainment dollars of our local existing businesses.

 From a less serious perspective, compare the Rush Street/Galesi depiction of their prospective patrons shown, in a Site Plan rendition, at the entrance to Rivers Casino [below L], with the actual folks leaving on its 1st Anniversary, February 8, 2018 [R]:

. . 

Rivers Casino Visitation is another shortfall on the Mohawk

67%red update (Feb. 5, 2018): The Schenectady Gazette reports this evening that Rivers Casino has released a set of statistics for its operations in 2017 at Mohawk Harbor. Included was the statement that “More than 1.5 million patrons entered the casino” in 2017. See “Rivers Casino counted more than 1.5 million guests in year one” (by John Cropley, online, Feb. 5, 2018). The article notes that:

“A 2014 consultant’s report prepared in support of the casino’s license application projected 2.5 million to 3 million patron visits per year. That would come once the casino achieved “stabilized operations,” the report stipulated, presumably not in its first year.”

RiversProjections Since the Gazette did not put the 1st vs. Stabilized Year projection into context, and by implication downplayed the shortfall, we will add context.  The projection of 2.5 million to 3.0 million visits in its first “stabilized” year was for 2019.  Rush Street consistently projected its first-stabilized-year numbers in its Application by adding 10% to its projections for 2017 (or vis versa) [For example, click on the image to the right, showing Rivers projections for gross gaming revenues, food and beverage sales, and hotel revenues. That 2014 submission to the Location Board can be found in full here.]

The Casino’s middle or base case projection for 2019 was 2.75 million patron visits.  Therefore, if 2017 had been a full year, the projection would be 2.5 million visits in 2017. Because 2017 ended up being only 47 weeks of operation (90% of 52 weeks), we should subtract another ten percent for a fair comparison to actual 2017 operations: That makes a 2017 base case (middle) projection of 2.25 million visits.

67%purple One and a half million patron visits to the Rivers Casino is therefore, only 67% of the number projected by Rush Street Gaming. It is easy to understand why a Casino Applicant wants to project as large a number of gaming and tourist visits as possible. As explained, below, the number of visitors attracted to Rivers Casino has important implications for gambling revenues generated, and also for the sales, food and beverage taxes, and hotel occupancy fees, paid at the Casino compound. But, also greatly impacts the promised “ripple” effect, if any, on the rest of the City and County’s businesses and attractions, as well as the feared “substitution/cannibalization effect”, whereby local leisure spending goes to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino, and not to other businesses.

BTW: Rivers Casino operated about 330 days in 2017. The 1.5 million patrons figures means that the average daily patron visitation at River Casino was about 4600. Of course, not all came to gamble, and some entered more than once a day, increasing the total.

treasurehunter Naturally, there are many questions about the 1.5 million number (beyond  how it was compiled), including how many were day-trippers, who are more likely to spend their entire Schenectady visit within the Casino or perhaps Mohawk Harbor, rather than spending time and money elsewhere. The Gazette notes that neither the state nor county will quantify sales tax and hotel occupancy tax revenue generated by the Casino, “out of consideration for the business strategies of those collecting.” That suggests that the  media needs to do some digging — beyond the self-congratulatory fog to be expected from the Chamber and Metroplex — to see how businesses outside of Mohawk Harbor are faring.

original posting

“Rivers Casino is estimated to attract more than 2.5 million visits to Schenectady and the downtown area, as discussed in the Gaming Market Assessment (Exhibit VIII.A.3.). This substantial visitor volume is expected to benefit local businesses, as has been experienced in numerous gaming jurisdictions across the country.” [at 29]

“As discussed in the Gaming Market Assessment (Exhibit VIII.A.3.), gaming visitation at the Rivers Casino is estimated to range from 2.5 million (Low Case) to 3.0 million (High Case).” [at 36]

. . . Rush Street Gaming, Economic Impact Analysis, June 2014

 When it applied to the NYS Gaming Commission Location Board in 2014, hoping to eventually operate Rives Casino in Schenectady, Rush Street Gaming estimated that the Casino would attract about 2.8 million “gaming visitations” in 2019, its first stabilized year of operation.  See Economic and Community Impact Analysis, Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor: Schenectady, New York (prepared for Rush Street Gaming, LLC, by The Innovation Group (June 12, 2014), at 7; see quotations above. [Note: the figures given by Rush Street for its 1st stabilized year were only 10% higher than it used for its first year of operations projections, not the amazing increases wistfully suggested by City Hall when asked about the disappointing 2017 numbers.]

As Rush Street’s Impact Analysis suggests, the number of visitors attracted has important implications for much more than gambling revenues generated. Of course, the sales, food and beverage taxes, and hotel occupancy fees, paid at the Casino compound, are directly connected to the number of day-trip and overnight visitors. But, so is the “ripple” effect, if any, on the rest of the City and County’s businesses, and the feared “substitution effect”, if local leisure spending goes to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino, and not to other businesses.  This website and its proprietor have been asking local media outlets to look into the Casino and Tourist Visits Issue for several months. To date, we have seen no media analysis of the issue. And, we have had no response from the Racing Commission to our request for gaming visitation statistics.

Today, Sunday Gazette reporter John Cropley has two articles looking at the first year of operation of Rivers Casino. “Rivers Casino raking in cash, but where’s tax cut?” and “Casinos’ impact on state still up for debate” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, February 4, 2018). The “Casinos’ Impact” article has only a momentary, and somewhat misleading, mention of tourist projections by Rivers Casino. In a list of projections given by Rush Street in its 2014 application, the article includes:

  • Projected 80,000 tourist visitors per year.

Rivers Casino did not bother to respond to the Gazette as to its various projections, so we do not know whether it believes it hit that 80K figure. In 2014, the 80,000 tourist visitors projection was, it appears, used in explaining the viability of a casino hotel. The 2.5 to 3.0 million “casino visitation” figure is the far more significant number when attempting to gauge the overall direct and indirect effects of the casino on the community.

  • A Casino Visitation is a trip to the casino by an individual, whether or not for gambling. As you can see in the two quotes at the top of this posting, Rush Street blurred the notion of casino visits and visits to Schenectady and its downtown. Overnight visitors/tourists to Mohawk Harbor seem more likely than day-trippers to make it out of the compound and head downtown, but even that is not a certainty. Eighty thousand is only about 3% of 2.5 million.
    • SpendLess To understand factors influencing Casino Visitation, see “Consumer Behavior in the Gaming Industry” (Dec. 2014), by The Innovation Group, which had produced Rush Street’s Economic Impact Analysis for its a Schenectady Casino application 6 months earlier, projecting the 2.8 million range. In this study, the generations were broken down into four groups: Millennials, GenX, Baby Boomers, and Matures. Among the findings:
    • “Ultimately, the trends we are seeing show a waning visitation and spend for older generations, which currently generate the majority of gaming revenue. Younger generations tend to be increasing casino visitation, but are not necessarily attending for gaming purposes.” [at 11]

    • “Proportionately, Millennials and GenX spent less than 60% of their day trip budget on gambling, while older generations spent over 75% of their day trip budget on gaming. Throughout the survey it was abundantly clear that the younger generations not only spend far more on non-gaming amenities than the older generations, but it was the non-gaming amenities that attracted them most to the casino.” [at 6] Thus, “More than half of Millennials mentioned they had visited the casino and did not gamble, comparing to only 15% of Matures who made that same indication.” [at 7] And, “the amenities that motivated the younger generations were much different and focused more on the following: • Nightlife; • Live entertainment; • Variety of table games; • Spa facilities; • Shopping; • Family attractions; • Number of bars & lounges; and • Free or comped alcohol.”

Don’t these findings suggest that actions a casino makes to attract younger consumers may help its bottom-line without a proportionate increase in the gambling revenue taxes communities were counting on?

The Gazette article does not speak of the “SubstitutionEffect” directly, but the notion was implicit in a statement that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli emailed to The Daily Gazette on Friday:

 “The new casinos may have some near-term positive impacts, including creating some new jobs. However, those gains can be expected to be offset by losses elsewhere, as people spend money in new casinos rather than in existing gambling venues or on other consumer purchases. The impact of the new casinos on New York’s economy remains to be determined.”

With the Schenectady County Tourism Bureau, the regional Chamber of Commerce,  and our Metroplex leadership focusing so much on helping Mohawk Harbor and the Casino, we need the press and broadcast media to ask just how the rest of our businesses are doing. City Hall did not do its Homework on the Substitution Effect Issue. The “Downtown leaders” most vocally in support of the Casino Application ended up being partnered up with Galesi and Rush Street, and surely can count on financial benefits from the operation of Rivers Casino. What about the rest of our businesses and business centers? For example, we need to see how sales taxes, food and beverage, and room occupancy receipts, did net of activity at he casino compound. And, ask what sales taxes would have looked like without the spike in one-time construction materials for Mohawk Harbor. As the Times Union has consistently done, the new leadership at the Schenectady Daily Gazette must do some digging and true investigative reporting, if our community is ever to know the true costs and benefits of the Rivers Casino. The Gazette needs to be focused on the Community’s needs, not the Casino’s needs.

  • This posting will be augmented as we learn more about the actual size of “gaming visitation” in 2017 at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, and the number of “tourist visits” the Casino has attracted. Rivers Casino touted its vistor numbers its first day or two in operation, but has not mentioned gaming visitation or tourist visit numbers since then.

. . share this post with this shorter URL: https://tinyurl.com/VisitorPromise

p.s.

The people of Hamilton Ontario [CA] successfully fought a downtown casino. Here are two samples of their graphics and posters: relating to the Cannibalization or Substitution Effects:

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the graph is prettier than the casino revenue numbers

A helpful friend used the weekly Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor gambling revenue figures from the NYS Gaming Commission, plus Exel software, to create the above graph. The only patterns I can see are long periods of mediocre revenues. There certainly was no noticeable improvement when The Landing Hotel opened on July 23, 2017.

Casino Projections vs. Casino Reality

 

RiversProjectionGame2

 Year-end numbers are in for 2017, and the City of Schenectady has received approximately $2.1 million in gaming tax revenue as the Host City of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, based on the Casino’s Gross Gaming Revenue total of $129.2 million for the year. The County received the same amount. In its budget, the City had projected it would receive $2.75 million from distribution of gaming taxes in 2017, leaving a shortfall over $600,000. See “Schenectady loses bet on casino revenue” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 4, 2018). As the Gazette pointed out last November, “Rivers reportedly projected its first-year [Gross Gaming] revenue to be in the $181 million to $222 million range.” If we take the middle of that range, $201 million in GGR in its first year, Rivers Casino only achieved 64% of its first year projection.

  • Click here to see Rush Street’s 5-year tax revenue estimates, submitted in its Application to the Gaming Commission Location Board as Ex. VIII.B.4. It shows a base GGR for 2017 of $201.8 million. Its high and low figures were obtained by respectively adding and subtracting 10% to that figure, yielding the range given in the Gazette of $181-222 million. Because Rush Street anticipated opening on Jan. 1, 2017 when making this estimate, it used a 52-week period rather than the actual 47 weeks, which meant 10% fewer operating weeks/days.
  •  Note: In Ex. VIII.B., filed at the end of July 2014, Rush Street Gaming estimated that the County and City would together receive a total of $3.2 million in gaming tax revenues in Year One, increasing to only $3.6 million collectively in Year Five, and would share those amounts.  Those numbers are very different from the $5.7 million in annual tax receipts City Council said it expected in its resolution the month before.  I would have thought the communication between City Hall and the Casino Gang was better than that.

 In what is surely a causally related effect, Mayor Gary McCarthy stated for the first time, in his New Year address before City Council last week, that he expected the City would have a “small deficit” when all 2017 numbers were tallied for the City, giving no further details of the cause or the likely amount. Asked afterwards, new City Council President Ed Kosiur said the Mayor’s remarks were the first he heard of a deficit. See “Schenectady Casino Revenue Coming Up Short of Expectations” (Samantha Beckett, Casino.org, Jan. 5, 2018). Regarding the Upstate casino shortfall in general, see “He nailed it: An analyst’s 2014 report predicted Upstate New York casino woes” NYUp.com, by Don Cazentre, Jan. 18, 2018).

 Click on the image to the left to see a week-by-week display of Gaming Revenues generated at Rivers Casino in 2017, plus totals.

The Stabilization Hope. Our City and County leaders keeping saying we can expect much better results once the casino’s operations and revenues have stabilized — as if Rush Street and its expert analysts are not competent to make first-year projections. But, in its Application to the Location Board, Rush Street Gaming estimated stabilized revenues in Year 5 to be only 10% more than its Year 1 figures. For more information on Rush Street’s revenue and tax projections, see the Applicants’ Economic Impact Analysis.

 Remembering the 18% property tax reduction City Council claimed it expected in a Resolution passed just before its vote to approve the Casino Application in July 2014, many residents are unhappy with the 1% reduction in the current City budget, and many are “roiled” over the water and sewer fee increases announced this week, which will offset the 1% reduction. See “State, local promises before casino vote a bust” (Times Union, by Lauren Stanforth, December 17, 2017); “Water, sewer rate increases roil some Schenectady residents” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 5, 2018).

 Are things likely to get better? Despite their Happy Faces, the City Council budgeted only $2.3 million in casino tax payments in 2018. Furthermore, Rush Street, City Hall and Metroplex have all pointed out for months that revenues are likely to rise due to the opening of Rivers Casino’s Landing Hotel, which had its first guests on July 19, 2017. (e.g., Times Union coverage; Gazette coverage) The week ending July 30 was the first full week with the Landing open. Despite the predictions of our Casino Cheerleaders, my calculations show that:

  • $2.7 million/wk. average for the 24 full weeks before before July 23
  • $2.6 million/wk. average for the 23 full weeks since the Landing opened

And, did you say “Resorts World Catskills Casino”?

Continue reading

TU compares revenue reality to casino projections

Lauren Stanforth has written a piece of investigatory journalism for the Albany Times Union, published yesterday at the top of the Sunday front page, on the dramatic shortfall of casino revenues from projections. See “State, local promises before casino vote a bust” (December 17, 2017). It points out that only the Schenectady City Council put actual projection numbers in a resolution, with a stated expectation of $5.7 million in annual tax gaming tax revenues for the City, and an 18% property tax reduction.
 .
 The City Council used NYS Dept. of Budget numbers for Regions, Counties, and Host Communities that were produced in 2013, announced in a press release (Oct. 2, 2013), to garner support for the Governor’s Constitutional Amendment Proposition, to permit non-Indian casinos. The numbers were, therefore, ginned up when the State did not know how many casinos there might actually be, nor where they would be located.
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The Resolution stated, in part [emphases added]:
.
WHEREAS, as Host Municipality, the City of Schenectady is entitled to receive 5% of the gaming taxes paid by the Gaming Facility which is projected by the NYS Division of the Budget to be $5.7 million dollars annually; and
 .
WHEREAS, a $5.7 million Host Municipality payment to the City of Schenectady would result in a reduction in real estate taxes of approximately 18%; . . . 
 .
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT
RESOLVED, that the Host Municipality payment received by the City of Schenectady will be used exclusively for the reduction of real property taxes in the City of Schenectady.
 .
  • At the time, we said at this website [in “Council ploy: all casino revenues will be used to reduce property taxes“, June 9, 2014] that “Th[e] Resolution is clearly meant to back the possible No Votes [on support for the Schenectady casino application] into a corner, by daring them to vote ‘no’ on a ‘tax reduction’.” In that context, using specific and huge numbers that appeared to come with the imprimatur of the State Budget office clearly strengthened the Mayor’s demand for Yes votes and the support in the very tax-conscious community for the casino. The Mayor was not able to convince Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi to vote for the Casino application, but they did agree that any tax revenues from the casino should be used to bring down real property taxes in Schenectady.
  •  At no time did City Council or the Mayor explain the tenuous connection between the DOB projections and an actual casino located in Schenectady, as opposed to a municipality with a greater potential to attract the public.
.
The TU article notes that the State’s 2013 projections estimated that the Host County in the Capital Region would receive about $11.4 million dollars annually (with the Host City getting half of that amount), but that the actual numbers for this year appear to be about $3.7 million, a shortfall of $7.6 million. It also stresses, regarding the Schenectady Casino situation:
 .
“A casino was expected to bring in so much revenue — and the local government share to go along with it — that Schenectady would reduce property taxes 18 percent in the first year. Now, 10 months after the opening of Rivers Casino and Resort, the city is reducing taxes 1 percent.
 .
“Schenectady County predicted a similar scenario, its legislature passing a resolution three years ago saying county taxes might be reduced 8 percent if a casino opened. County officials are now reducing taxes 1 percent.”
.
Reporter Stanforth interviewed local politicians, and informed us:
 .
Schenectady officials say their tax reduction promises were not disingenuous because they based their statements on the Budget Division’s numbers — and that property taxes are still being reduced.
 .
 But those who argued against a casino say the disparity between what was promised and the current reality reinforces their concerns that local officials had no intention of looking critically at information provided by the state or casino operators themselves.
 .
“They did it in bad faith,” said Schenectady resident David Giacalone, who lives in the city’s historic Stockade neighborhood and was one of the most vocal critics opposing a casino. “They knew these numbers meant nothing.”
.

Catskills casino coming in 2018

County Legislature Chair Gary Hughes pointed out that the NYS Gaming Commission believes casino revenues will grow in coming years, but he added, “Is it someday going to be $5.7 million? I have my doubts.” I wonder if Mr. Hughes has considered, as the TU stated, that “revenue from the Resorts World Catskills [casino in Monticello] will likely top Rivers, as it will have almost twice as many slot machines and an 18-story hotel when it opens in March, as well as a golf course opening in 2019″. Indeed, about a billion dollars will be invested in the Catskills casino project, yielding a location that will actually look like a tourist destination. 

.
Perhaps City Council President Leeza Perazzo is giving up her hopes of being Mayor. She was remarkably frank with the reporter:
.
Schenectady City Council President Democrat Leesa Perazzo, who voted to support a casino, said the city included the revenue number in its June 2014 vote because the state provided it.
.
The resolution also said that the host municipality payment, “will be used exclusively for the reduction of real property taxes.” However, city officials have already used casino revenue in settling fire and police contracts.
.
Perazzo said a resolution is not a law, so city officials are not bound by the tax reduction promises made in it. [emphasis added]
Sadly, our City Hall has given us a Social Studies and Political Science lesson for the ages here in Schenectady. I wonder if this TU article has given the Gazette any ideas about doing a little casino-related investigation of its own. Perhaps a spotlight on the Applicants’ projection of 2.8 million visitors coming annually to Schenectady because of Rivers Casino needs a bit of investigation. More significantly, perhaps looking into the ways the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals have twisted (diminished? castrated?) our Zoning Code to please the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming might be more important in the long run.
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first lap of the Casino Horse Race

Rivers Casino in Schenectady is doing a lot of advertising in Saratoga to try to capture prospective gamblers arriving in the area for the Saratoga racing season. Nonetheless, its take for the first week of the Saratoga meet is one of its worst yet, adding up to only $2,563,000, down 7% from the mediocre prior week. (Saratoga Racing and Hotel had a modest increase for the first week of racing season.) With its relative paucity of charm, and cultural and retail offerings (and virtually no clothing stores, art galleries, or museums of note), and even with the opening of casino’s The Landing hotel, it is difficult to see how Schenectady can compete for business from outsiders attracted to Saratoga Springs and its ambiance, especially after they see actually experience the Schenectady that Dave Buicko calls a “Destination”.

casinodesignactual As I have asked before, with an unattractive casino exterior, and more attractive casino/racino competitors, who will choose Schenectady (more than once)? This is perhaps more of the Snowman Effect that we at this weblog have feared. Having failed to demand a quality product from Rush Street Gaming worth the designation as a tourist destination, and failed to make Erie Boulevard the least bit appealing as an introductory entryway to Schenectady, newcomers used to real cities with real Renaissance downtowns, can only be let down by what they find in Schenectady.

  • crimescene-casinoWe are, of course, wondering when the Gazette will cover a story posted at the Times Union website on Friday, August 4, 2017: “Schenectady County had N.Y.’s highest crime rate in 2016” (by Emily Masters).” Schenectady County Sheriff Dom Dagostino told the TU, “We are a stopping point for the drug trade (from) downstate,”  and the Sheriff added “that Schenectady, Albany and Rensselaer counties serve as a distribution hub for the rest of upstate New York. The other two counties’ crime rates came in as No. 5 and 12, respectively, out of 62 counties statewide.”
    • Meanwhile, Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford “wondered if Schenectady’s geography tipped the scales.” Sorry, Chief, I do not think the Governor’s plans to move some Stockade properties out of the Mohawk floodplain can expand to move the whole City off of upstate New York’s Drug Trade Highway.
  • Speaking of a comparison with Saratoga, “Saratoga County, which also borders Schenectady, ranked No. 50. Compared to its northern neighbor, Schenectady County is more diverse, less affluent and [more] densely populated.”
  • update (August 8, 2017): This afternoon, the Gazette posted online the article “Schenectady County had the highest crime rate in the State in ’16,” by Steven Cook. The article looks at various ways to look at the numbers.

 

revenues last week worst yet at Rivers Casino in Schenectady

 Rivers Casino’s 9th week of operation generated its worst week of revenues yet at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady.  Revenues were down for the 6th time in 7 weeks, registering at $2,669,892, a reduction of 7.86% from the prior week’s dismal numbers. Its closest geographic competitor, Saratoga Casino & Hotel, saw a much smaller reduction last week of 1.5%. Here is a composite of the reported numbers on the Racing Commission site:

RiversRevsTo09Apr2017

For more information and discussion about revenues at the Mohawk Harbor Casino, see our posting on April 7, 2017, which has relevant charts and links; short URL: http://tinyurl.com/RiversDown .

print “His Station” by Coolidge

 The Schenectady Casino started daily poker tournaments last Monday, April 10, 2017, in the hope of increasing revenues. [see Gazette coverage, and Times Union coverage of the poker strategy] Those results will not be public until next Friday, April 21, 2017.

A shorter URL to use to share this posting is http://tinyurl.com/RiversRevsDown .

. . for discussion of projected revenues, check out what do those Casino revenue figures mean? (

where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?

 

casinodesignactual

Despite weeks of fawning coverage and cheerleading by local broadcast, internet, and print media, I have yet to hear or read any praise for the exterior design of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. Nor any questions on why it looks so different from the design we thought we were getting in July 2015. And, unless you count this website, no one in the media has attempted as of yet to put a name to the “style” of the façade presented by Rivers Casino to the world, which is very likely to become the new image of Schenectady, and which for my money doesn’t meet the aesthetic standards of a Sonic Drive-in.

. . share this post with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/homelycasino

How did we get this sad result? Casino owner and developer Rush Street Gaming presented three renditions showing a front view of its proposed casino from a perspective similar to the actual casino shown above:

casino-renderresort . . 1st version

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 . . 2nd version

riversrender3 . . 3rd version

The public and media made it clear when the second version was unveiled in early June 2015 that they cared very much about the design of the Schenectady casino and disliked the retro-brick-factory look of the 2nd design. Despite this interest, Rush Street’s next attempt, released on July 9, 2015, presented only two details of a modern design meant to point to Schenectady’s future — the above partial view of the front entryway and a view of the rear.  The disappointed reaction of the Gazette‘s editorial staff was titled “Casino design is better, but public needs to see more” (Sunday Gazette, p. D2, July 12, 2015; no longer online). The editorial began, “You have to give them credit. It’s better than the last version. But is it enough?” The conclusion was a loud “no”:

The drawings released Thursday show little of the building other than the entrance and one shot from the river. They also don’t show the perspective of the pylon sign in comparison to the new structure.

It might seem nit-picky to want to see more. But as we’ve said before, we’re all going to have to live with this thing for a few decades, and we want to make sure it’s going to look like what they say it’s going to look like.

If the public is going to offer intelligent comments to the Planning Commission, they need to see more of the new design so they have a more complete perspective. In the 10 days leading up to next Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, we urge casino developers to post more renderings of the new redesign online and share them with the community. . . .

The more information the people have about the project, the more transparency government affords them, the more likely it is that they will accept it.

That should be the goal of the developers, and most importantly, the city’s government.

Despite that sensible plea, Rush Street offered no further rendering for the public or the Planning Commission, and the Commission irresponsibly failed to demand more. The next view of the proposed 3rd design was merely a small group of Power Point sketches projected on a screen at the special Site Plan Meeting of the Commission, on July 22, 2015. I photographed the colorized sketch below of the 300-foot-long front of the Casino structure from the back of the room with a small camera (thus the lack of focus):

casinodesign3sp

The public never got to see more prior to or after the Special Site Plan Meeting. A visit to the Planning Office on July 24, 2015 revealed there were no hardcopies of the Power Point presentation submitted for the Commissioners to review prior to or at the Meeting, nor for the public to see.  (See our posting, “casino site plan approved” (July 23, 2015)

This screen shot and text from the Gazette articleSchenectady casino design gets green light” on July 22, 2015, shows what they and we had believed would be the final design:

designgreenlightgaz14apr2016 “The façade of the casino has shifted from an industrial look with brown bricks to a more contemporary look with white-gray coloring and metal panels.

“Chicago casino operator Rush Street Gaming went back to the drawing board after being hit with negative comments from the public about the initial [second] design plan. Several of the commissioners said they like the new design better than previous renderings released to the public. Klai Juba Wald Architects of Las Vegas designed the casino.”

As the Gazette opinion editor stated on July 12, 2015, “we want to make sure it’s going to look like what they say it’s going to look like”. Well, obviously, thanks to the back-bending Snowmen on the Planning Commission, we got something else. The City’s chief planner, Christine Primiano, wrote an email three days ago, assuring me that “yes all changes to the July 2015 design were approved during the April 13th, 2016 review. It was for amended site plan review and final sign approval.”

casinosignagecover The approval was, indeed, done in the guise of the Commission approving the final signage plan for the Casino, which was primarily publicized for no longer including an 80′ pylon structure and reducing the overall signage on the casino and its hotel. There was no mention of the drastically altered entryway wall, which jettisons the 3rd design’s “more contemporary look with white-gray coloring and metal panels.” In actuality, the large LCD screens that were going to be placed on the pylon sign, were basically affixed to the entry façade of the Schenectady casino. And, no, there were no renderings of the Casino’s new look.

casinoentrysignage-mar2016 Thus, in April 2016, the only image the Commissioners were shown of the portion of the Casino’s front entryway that had been presented as its 3rd design and approved in July 2015 was the sketch shown to the right of this paragraph. It comprised about a quarter of page six of a 7-page document titled Signage and Wayfaring Program. [Click here to see the entire page.] And, neither the Planning Commission staff nor the Chair of the Commission demanded a fuller depiction, which they clearly had the authority to do prior to putting the matter on the Commission’s agenda. Because the Planning Commission does not post submitted documents along with its online Agenda notice to the public, and Rush Street did not share its submission with the public or media, others would have seen that minimalist sketch only if they made a trip to the Planning Office and asked to view the file, or if they somehow knew they could request that the document be emailed to them.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-10-00-49-am As so often has happened while witnessing the multi-stage, multi-year process of Casino approval at Schenectady’s City Hall, I’m left wondering if I’m watching Fools or Knaves (or both) going through the motions of enforcing the City’s laws. For sure, they seem like Snowmen, blind, mute, toothless, disarmed, and heat-averse.  Who can say if the Planning Office and Commission were fooled by this bait-and-switch? I would hate to think our officials are so incompetent or naive. The public and media certainly cannot be faulted for their ignorance of the nature of the pig inside the casino’s design poke. Indeed, even today (February 9, 2017), with the Rivers Casino already open, The Galesi Group’s Mohawk Harbor website continues to show the July 2015 3rd design entryway as the first slide on its “Play-Here” page touting the Rivers Casino portion of Mohawk Harbor. Here’s a screenshot taken this morning:

mohharbplayhereimage

  • Likewise, Galesi Group used the 3rd design in the ad it took out welcoming Rivers Casino, in the Gazette’s January 31, 2017 advertising supplement, The Road to Rivers. click to view.

The words of the Gazette editorial of June 7, 2015, written in response to the retro-factory style 2nd design, are still highly relevant when thinking about the undesigned, styleless reality of our real-life Rivers Casino:

Rethink the new Rivers casino design

. . . Maybe we’re supposed to be grateful for any design at all. Certainly, anything they build will look better than the existing giant empty lot, for decades littered with piles of construction debris, steel girders and weed-covered clumps of dirt.

But we weren’t promised just anything. We were promised a spectacle. And this design is a fizzled firework. . . .

Perception equals reality. What is the perception we want people to have of our new casino and retail center and hotel and townhouse complex? And how will that perception ultimately affect the bottom line? How enthusiastic are people going to be driving great distances to a facility that looks like a relic from the WPA? What reality will we get in return for this abrupt change in design concept?

As we emphasized in our posting,“why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?” (June 19, 2015), Rush Street Gaming clearly knows how to produce an attractive, even spectacular, design. We got much less, it seems, because our Mayor and zoning/planners officials failed to demand a quality design. How will our homely casino exterior affect its bottom line, and thus the tax revenues generated by it? We will have to wait and see. Our posting last month, “casino choices in upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?” is not optimistic that we can successfully attract people from outside a very small geographic area, given the many other casinos that actually try to look like a tourist destination.

How did we get stuck with this unattractive casino in Schenectady? The reader can decide for herself or himself how or why it happened. We believe City officials more interested in pleasing or appeasing the developer and casino owner, and their button-man, Mayor McCarthy, failed to do their jobs, and have diminished themselves and our City.

  • For more Rush Street bait-n-switch, click here, concerning the giant pylon sign.
  • tunelson2016signplan In addition, see “Casino sign plan to be submitted to the city in ’16” (Albany Times Union, December 13, 2015), where TU reporter Paul Nelson states that sometime next year Rush Street will submit “a more comprehensive look at the design of the 80-foot pylon or gateway sign that will welcome visitors” to the casino, “as part of a larger package dealing with all the signage on the 60-acre Erie Boulevard site.” Nelson notes that:

“Mike Levin, a consultant with Rush Street Gaming, said last week that design plans will focus on colors and lettering of the pylon sign that some critics have complained is too garish.”

Their response to worries about the pylon colors and garishness was, it now seems, to move those elements to the façade of the casino building itself. Just another thumb in the eye of the Planning Commission, City of Schenectady, and its residents.

afterthought (February 10, 2017) – xpresscash08feb2017a

The collage below shows the three blocks of Erie Boulevard leading to the Schenectady Casino coming from the north (I-890, or State Street/Rte.5). Click on it for a larger version:

riverscasino-erieapproach . . The much-touted Renaissance of Downtown Schenectady has not exactly reached Erie Blvd. near the Casino. .

 

 

casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?

The Snowmen Effect #1: This posting is the first in our new The Snowmen Effect category, in which we will point out how inadequate protection of the public interest has resulted in a less attractive, less safe, less successful, and/or less responsible Rivers Casino in Schenectady. Here, we discuss the lackluster design of Rivers Casino, due to the failure of our snowmen-like leaders to demand better.

share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/CasinoChoices

UpstateNYMap2018 If you lived more than 40 or 50 miles from Schenectady, would you choose Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its touted $320 million investment by Rush Street Gaming, over the half dozen other casino choices in upstate New York? More than once? (Click on the Upstate NY Casino Map to the right for a larger version; Google Map.)

How will residents of cities like Watertown, Kingston, Binghamton, or Rochester, choose between the casino options available in Upstate New York? Each of the casinos has ample “gaming” options, and similar guest incentive programs, with apparently sufficient dining and hotel accommodations, and entertainment, along with fairly comparable weather. How important will the visual appeal of the casino complex be (architectural design, lighting and landscaping, physical setting)?

riverscasino13jan . . entrance, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, Schenectady

riverscasinodesignsThe main entrance of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino can be seen above (Click on the image for a larger version). As detailed in this posting, the final rendition submitted to the public of the casino entrance, in July 2015, looked quite different. Click on the thumbnail image to the right to compare. [note (Feb. 5, 2017): The Galesi Group is still using the July 2015 image in its promotion of Mohawk Harbor, as in the Gazette‘s January 31, 2017 advertising supplement, The Road to Rivers. click to view.]

Here are images of the front façade or casino entrance for each of the three other new Upstate  NY “commercial” casinos granted licenses by the NYS Racing Commission (click on each for a larger image):

. . del Lago  dellagocasino  . .

above: rendering of the casino portion of Del Lago, Waterloo-Tyre NY, opens 01Feb2017;  below: [L] a rendering of the Tioga Downs Casino, Nichols NY, opened 2Dec2016, plus a photo of the Tioga Downs entrance; [R] a rendering of the Montreign Casino, Monticello, opening March 2018

tiogacasinofront . . Tioga Downs Casino  . . tiogaentrancetwc

Montreign Casino . . montreignentrance

There are quite a few choices besides our Rivers Casino (click on the link for each casino in the list below to learn more about its outside appearance, indoor ambiance, and amenities):

  • dellagocasinoimagesThe $440 million Del Lago Casino in Waterloo-Tyre NY (Sullivan County) opens February 1, 2017, a week before the Rivers Casino; click here for a recent article about it, and click on the collage at the head of this sentence for views of del Lago.

update (Feb. 1, 2017): Del Lago opened today at 10:30 AM. On Syracuse.com, the website of the Syracuse Post-Standard, you can find a “first look” video shot two days ago. Here is a photo taken on January 30 for Syracuse.com by Dennis Nett, showing that the final result is faithful to the original rendition:

dellagocasino30jan2017 

  • follow-up: see our posting “a quick look at del Lago’s exterior” (April 7, 2018), which has many photos taken April 2, 2018 on-site, plus some comparable images from Schenectady’s Rivers Casino.

 

  • tiogacasinocollage Tioga Downs Casino, in Nichols NY, has been revamped (with a $122 million capital investment) and is already opened (since December 2016) in the Southern Tier, with a “country-fair themed” experience; click the collage to the right for more images of Tioga.
  • saratogacasino [on left] The upgraded Saratoga Casino and Raceway [FAQs], which is about 22 miles up Rt. 50 from Schenectady, is located in a proven tourist town that offers good taste, upscale shopping, and history; it is still a “racino”, but has over 1700 slot machines and electronic table games;
  • montreigncasinovThe Resorts International Catskills Casino  [f/k/a Montreign Casino at Monticello (image on right)], scheduled to open early next year, with a much larger budget [$1.3 billion when the complex is completed] than Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and the vision of renewing the Catskills as a top-level tourist destination, with a four-star hotel (and a less pricey one being built in its expansive entertainment center), and, a top-flight gold course. Follow-up (Dec. 26, 2017): In “Bet on busy flights to casino: Resorts World downstate to fly in gamblers from Newburgh-area airport” (Times Union, by Rick Karlin, A1, Dec. 26, 2107), we learn of plans by Resorts World to fly in high-rollers from around the world. The Albany Airport has not yet noticed any flyers coming here for the casinos.
    • CatskillWaterpark The Times Union also has reported (by Eric Anderson, Jan. 17, 2018) on a two-acre indoor waterpark being built by a Colonie firm for the Catskills casino’s  Kartrite Hotel. “The new hotel and waterpark, a more than $150 million project, will open in early 2019 and be one of three hotels on the campus.”
  • MGMSpringfield-render . . MGMSpringfield-rend2 update (July 31, 2018): And, 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. To us, it looks like a destination resort.

and, of course,

  • turning-stone-casino The Oneida National tribal casino-resort Turning Stone at Verona, NY, is 24-years old and doing $20 million in upgrades to compete with del Lago; and
  • FallsViewFallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, ON Canada, opened in 2004 as a $1 billion investment. It is owned by the Government of Ontario, and managed by a consortium that includes a company owned by Neil Bluhm, the original developer of Fallsview, and the primary owner of Rush Street Gaming. [image on the right]

In an Appendix at the bottom of this posting, I have compiled the distances of the various casinos from Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Kingston, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, and Utica. Here are the distance figures for Syracuse:

  • from Syracuse NY
  • to Del Lago: 43 miles
  • to Turning Stone: 89 miles
  • to Tioga Downs: 104 miles
  • to Rivers Casino/Schenectady 156 miles
  • to Monticello/Montreign: 164 miles
  • to Fallsview Casino, Niagara Falls, Canada: 165 miles
  • to Saratoga Casino: 187 miles
casinoscomparecollage

three new upstate choices: at Schenectady, Waterloo/Tyre & Monticello (click to enlarge)

Taste is, of course, very subjective, and I do not expect universal agreement on which casino design is “better,” more attractive, classier, “more tasteful,” most likely to sway potential customers, etc. As a longtime resident of the Schenectady Stockade historic district, a photographer, and sometime haiga-haiku poet, I am especially drawn to things that are visually attractive in a low-key, classical way, but also at times to visually striking scenes. As I have said often over the past two years (e.g., here and there), for my money, Schenectady’s Rivers Casino looks like a flashy-tacky version of a 20th Century shopping mall’s cineplex wing. (Others have pointed out that Schenectady actually has a far more attractive cineplex downtown; and better looking gas stations, too.) It looks like a humdrum regional (maybe even local) attraction; boxes next to or on top of boxes. For me, the competing casinos seem visually much more “attractive” (able to attract).

riverscasino-erieapproach

a look at Erie Blvd.

Indeed, many people who are inclined to be kinder than I in their assessment of our Casino’s visual appeal, probably would come to the same conclusion. That’s without contrasting the eyesores greeting visitors on the way to and from Mohawk Harbor along Erie Boulevard (see collage to the right) with the physical setting in the vicinity of Montreign, del Lago, Saratoga, Tioga, etc.

In June of 2015, when there was still plenty of time to get Schenectady’s casino design “right”, or at least adequate as a true tourist destination, we raised many questions in a posting titled “why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?“:

MinorLeagueSchdy

Rush Street designs

  It seems obvious that a “destination resort casino” should be designed to look and feel exciting and extraordinary.  The Gazette editorial board thinks so, and so [purportedly] does our Planning Commission.  Why, then, has Rush Street Gaming handed us two three minor league designs, just boxes on boxes, and a casino complex easily relegated to the realm of humdrum regional facilities? It is not because Rush Street does not know how to put a little sparkle or class in a casino design [click on collage to the right, and read the full posting].

 

Our first guess as to why Rush Street does not try very hard for Schenectady is that it has had our “leaders” fawning over it ever since the first rumor of a casino was in the air early last year.  This morning’s Schenectady Gazette suggests another reason: As with the earlier zoning amendments, the normal Planning Commission process has been aborted (hijacked?), with the skids greased by the Mayor to make sure Galesi and Rush Street never have to wait very long to get their wish list fulfilled, and with public input stifled whenever possible. . .

For discussion and details on the Planning Commission’s many acts of omission in reviewing momentous changes to the City’s Waterfront Zoning provisions (listed here) and casino design requirements, see “Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber-stamp in a Company Town” (Jan. 29, 2015; short URL: http://tinyurl.com/CasinoTown). And, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on his planning commission” (Feb. 09, 2016, which in part stated:

Yesterday [in another February 8th disaster for our City], Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy made public his decision not to re-appoint to the Planning Commission its newly-chosen chair, Matthew Cuevas, ending Cuevas’ service after more than two decades. Clearly, the Mayor is not interested in keeping a Planning Commissioner, especially one with the powers of the Chair, who is actively interested in enforcing the zoning laws, fulfilling their promise to protect the interests of all residents of Schenectady, and not merely those of the Mayor’s favorite few applicants and their proposals. . . .

update (March 16, 2016): Our sheep-herding Mayor continues his deterrent-minded culling of the flock on his volunteer regulatory boards. Of course, he is not culling out the weak, he is removing the independent members who refuse to act like sheep. See Faces changing on Schenectady planning board (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 15, 2016; subscription req’d). The Mayor has failed to renew the appointment of Planning Commissioner Thomas Carey, who was the only member to vote No last year on the Site Plan review of the Casino compound plans. . . .

[Similarly,] Speaking about the Mayor’s failure to re-appoint herself and fellow Historic Commission member Frank Donegan, [former Chair] Marilyn Sassi told TU reporter Paul Nelson:

“We believed it’s because we spoke out against several projects the mayor is in favor of and he’s just eliminating anybody that doesn’t agree with him,” said Sassi . . “Right now, I’m relieved because I don’t want to have any part of a rubber stamp board, I want to be free to be able to express my feelings and concerns.”

flexibleharbor Another reason for the humdrum design was suggested to me by an outgoing City Council member, and raised by others: If the Schenectady Casino fails, the owner of the land, The Galesi Group, wants the buildings left on the site to be easily converted into almost any new use — from big box store to light industrial use, to small shops or offices, etc. The last thing Mr. Galesi wants on his land if the Rivers Casino fails is a building that “looks like a casino”.  Under this scenario, Rivers Casino is so iffy a project, that we got a casino compound that could be walked away from without too much of a mess for its landlord — a second-rate design in case Plan B is needed in the not too distant future.

GEsignBlDice Rather than acting as if “Schenectady” were the Mohawk language equivalent to “Second-rate-City”, or submissively resigning itself to the status of a mendicant Casino-run Company Town, there were many ways that a vigilant City Council and Planning Commission (or Metroplex), could have ensured that the City of Schenectady got a quality design for its casino, as a true tourist destination. First, of course, they could have used the tremendous leverage they possessed as the host City. Rush Street Gaming needed City Council approval of its application to the Racing Commission for a casino license. Rush Street also desired major changes to our zoning laws to develop its casino without restrictions meant to protect the community. Other cities, as is the universal practice in the industry, take advantage of this leverage to provide benefits for the residents and community. Asking for a quality casino design — which would benefit the casino owner as well as the City — would have been more than appropriate.

Next, our political and business leaders could have simply orchestrated public pressure to achieve an improved design, as when the universally disliked “factory-retro look” was rejected by the community. The very minor tweaks to that plan that resulted in our current design should also have been strongly rejected.

More fundamental and direct, however, was using the Site Planning process to require that the casino design live up to the expectations, and certainly not detract from, such things as the upscale image that The Galesi Group had been creating for its mixed-use Mohawk Harbor development, and the Metroplex ongoing renewal of downtown, along with capitalizing on (and preserving) the appeal of the historic Stockade Historic District, a gem merely one-half mile down Front Street.

According to a February 2015 Gazette article, “Schenectady City Council mulls zoning for Mohawk Harbor: Riggi wants city to reiterate Planning Commission’s authority”, even Corporation Council Carl Falotico confirmed the Planning Commission’s site plan authority:

“Falotico stressed that the commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.”

 

What a site plan accomplishes “The purpose of site plan regulations is to ensure that the development of individual parcels of land do not have an adverse impact on adjacent properties or the surrounding neighborhood. Such regulations also ensure that the parcel’s development fits properly into the community and conforms to its planning objectives. The development of individual parcels must conform to the provisions of local zoning which contain use and dimensional requirements for site development. Zoning, however, does not contain specifications regulating the details of a site’s development that protect, for example, the design of vehicular access to the site, the provision of needed landscape features, the location of parking areas, and the architectural features of buildings. Site plan specifications go beyond those of zoning, and protect adjacent areas and the community’s residents from flooding and erosion, traffic congestion and accidents, unsightly design, noise pollution, and the erosion of neighborhood character. This is their distinct purpose.”

Conclusion: Schenectady deserves a spectacular design for its casino. From the start, Rush Street’s competitors understood a destination casino must look special, while our applicant seemed to be willing to settle for a very modest “regional” casino look, and the City Hall yes-persons failed to ask for something better. Local business leaders were quite surprised to learn at a recent meeting with casino management that the primary geographic market targeted by Rivers Casino was only a 60-mile radius. Sadly, that fits in with the casino design they have given us.

The result will surely be far less revenue, and trickle-down tourist dollars, than the City and County assumed when they readily caved in to the Casino Gangs’ every demand and proposal. The Upstate, and soon Massachusetts, rivals of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor must be pleased. Our community will now have to rely on local residents spending undue amounts of their disposable (as well as indispensable) income to keep Rivers Casino successful enough for Rush Street to want to stay. That is not exactly the future Schenectady deserves; unless, we deserve the leaders we elect and the future they create.

APPENDIX – Distances from various cities to the casinos

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