the riverbank Trail at Mohawk Harbor is not safe

MHtrail3Jul2018a

 . . Updates (July 3 and Oct. 5, 2018): Below we explain the reasons why we believe the Alco Heritage Trail is unsafe. When pressed on the safety issue in June, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen insisted that a fence or guardrail would be installed “soon”. But, I have continued to wonder why neither the County or City, nor the hosting Casino, has installed temporary warnings signs and devices (i.e., quick and inexpensive orange safety cones and yellow tape), to keep visitors away from the steep, rocky slope, and slippery gravel. They plan to host thousands at Mohawk Harbor to see the Fireworks and concerts on July 3 and 4, and many events all summer. [photo at right taken at 11 AM, July 3] So far, the media has shown no interest in this issue.

cautiontaperoll(Oct. 5, 2018): Ray Gillen wrote in an email to the editor of this weblog, in the third week of September, that a fence would be built along the trail buffer “in October.” As of noon October 5, there is neither a fence or guardrail and no temporary warning devices; see the photo below, taken today:

AlcoTrail05Oct2018

Original Posting

ALCOTrailSafetyCollage3

. . the above collage summarizes issues discussed in this web-post (click on it for a larger version)

What did you think the ALCO Heritage bike-pedestrian Trail would look like when completed? The Trail runs through Mohawk Harbor, past the Marina and amphitheater, and behind the Rivers Casino and its Landing Hotel. In each rendering submitted by the developers, Galesi Group and the casino owner and operator Rush Street Gaming, the riverside buffer between the Trail and the Mohawk River is shown green, landscaped and gently sloping to the riverbank. For example:

 . .

. . renderings of rear of Rivers Casino and Hotel: above June 2014; below July 2015 . .

 In addition, when the Site Plan was approved by the Planning Commission in 2015, the relevant and still-current provisions of the C-3 Waterfront Zoning Code of the City of Schenectady stated [emphases added]:

(4) A single multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail shall be constructed by the applicant with the following construction and design standards .. :

[1] The trail shall have a width of at least 10 feet along the length of the Mohawk River shoreline and shall endeavor to be located reasonably adjacent to the undeveloped shoreline whenever practicable.

[2] There shall be an additional two feet of graded area on either side of the trail and an additional ten-foot buffer between the trail and the river.

[3] The trail shall be constructed of asphalt, synthetic composite, concrete, pavers, or other materials as approved by the Planning Commission.

[4] Trails and esplanades may include landscaped areas, sitting areas, benches, gazebos and suitable lighting facilities.

At no place has the required 12-foot buffer been installed on the riverside of the Trail. There also is no place for any sitting areas, benches, etc., along the riverbank side of the trail.

Also, the New York State Department of Transportation has issued guidelines to apply when a bike trail is near a steep slope. If the slope is less than 4.92 feet from the Trail, a safety rail 4.59′ high is required. The design requirements of State DOT depicted in the following  image appear to be directly applicable to the Mohawk Harbor trail, given the steepness of the slope and the drop of far more than the 0.3 meters [0.98 ft.] over the slope:

NYSDOT-ShareUseRailingSlope

Despite any expectations created by the above materials, the next set of photos shows what the ALCO Heritage Trail actually looks like, as do photos in the top collage:

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IMG_4939

IMG_8691 . . IMG_8688

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With only a loose gravel buffer of 3.5′ to 7′ on the river side of the trail (rather than the required 12 feet of graded buffer), and a very steep slope covered with sharp, rip-rap rocks, without guardrails installed, it certainly does not look safe enough to me.  Part of my concern, of course, in addition to the normal mishaps on a busy shared use path, is the fact that the Trail passes within a couple yards of casino, restaurant and barroom patios, whose patrons will not all be sober, as well as by the Mohawk Harbor Marina and amphitheater.

CasinoRearFromBridge30May2018 copy-001

. . above: ALCO Heritage Trail seen, with zoom lens, from Freeman’s Bridge (May 29, 2018) ..

Nonetheless, because I am neither a bike-ped trail planner nor engineer, I decided to share my concerns with Paul Winkeller, the long-time Executive Director of the New York State Bicycling Coalition, to see if my concerns were valid. I sent Paul an email containing the collage at the top of this post and a few other photos. Paul wrote back the next day and forwarded my materials to a few other NYBC Board members, including Emeritus Board Member Ivan Vamos, a retired engineer and official for several relevant New York State agencies, who spent a few decades helping to implement bike trails and greenways. [read more on the backgrounds of Mr. Vamos and Mr. Winkeller, here.]

Engineer Ivan Vamos wrote back less than an hour after he received my forwarded inquiry, saying:

I agree, it looks like a bad solution for bicyclists and perhaps also for the handicapped with “walkers” and other aid devises. The rough gravel shoulder above the rip-rap was probably the selected solution to handle significant run-off from paved areas upslope; this was a cost-effective solution for that issue, versus a more sophisticated drainage plan.  The problem is that if a bike or other wheeled devise, women with high heeled shoes, or people with walking aids (like canes) stray on to the gravel, they will fall onto the sharp rip-rap.

I suggest a fence with “rub-rails” that keeps bicyclists of different heights and others on the trail. If observed use of the trail looks to attract a lot of strollers who tend to come to look at the River/harbor as part of their outing, it may be advisable to have the rail at a height that can be leaned on, benefiting walkers, but still giving some protection for bicyclists.

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Although noting that he was not a planner or engineer, Executive Director Winkeller wrote, “Of course it does not look safe!” A few days later, he offered the assistance of New York Bicycling Coalition to Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen in designing a safe shared use path (and got no reply), and added that he hoped I would continue to press the safety concerns:

“This is the height of the cycling season which means higher trail use and more of a chance of crashes. This is not a safe design, of that we all agree.”

  • County Legislators Have Not Replied. After three weeks, I have had no reply from several County Legislators to questions I  had sent them about the timing of the official opening of the Trail and whether additional safety measures were planned. That was prior to my correspondence with NYCB.
  • Corporation Counsel Has Not Replied. At the end of May, I also wrote to Schenectady’s Corporation Counsel, Carl Falotico, informing him of the comments from NYCB leaders, and asking whether the developers had received some sort of waiver from the Zoning Code requirements for the Harbor Trail. Three weeks later, I have not received a substantive reply from Mr. Falotico, who promised a reply when he was “ready to schedule a meeting” on the issues.
  • update (Oct. 4, 2018): More than four months later, I have yet to receive any substantive reply from the City’s Legal Department, the County Legislature of Law Department, or Metroplex, nor any suggestion as to why/how the specific requirements of our Riverfront zoning code for this specific trail could be ignored when constructing the trail.
  • Jennifer Ceponis, of the Capital District Transportation Committee, raised the issue at a Committee meeting on June 12, 2018. Jennifer reported that the City of Schenectady was “working on the problem.”

Bicyclists are already using the ALCO Heritage Trail, which connects Glenville’s Freedom Bridge road and Erie Boulevard with a riverside trail now ending at River Street in the East Front Street neighborhood, and then the Stockade. The CDPHP Bike Share program recently installed a bike share station at Mohawk Harbor, adding to the number of cyclists using the Harbor’s shared-use trail. Summer concerts at the Marina’s amphitheater, drawing audiences in the thousands, and other Harbor and Casino events will also increase the number of pedestrians using the Trail.

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If the information above leaves you wondering about the safety of the ALCO Heritage Trail, or the  process that has created a shared-use path quite different from our expectations, please let County and City legislators, and staffers working on bicycle planning and implementation know of your concerns.

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  • questionmarkkeyBW$$? FINANCING THE TRAIL: The City of Schenectady C-3 Waterfront District zoning code, as quoted above, states that the pedestrian and bicycle trail “shall be constructed by the applicant.” (emphasis added) Nonetheless, the County and Maxon Alco (the Galesi Group company that owns Mohawk Harbor) entered a Harbor Trail Easement Agreement in March 2016 stating,  “The parties agree that the maximum cost to Maxon Alco for the construction of the Trail shall not exceed $100,000.00. County shall be responsible for all costs and expenses for Trail construction which exceed the Maxon Alco Contribution.” 
    • Any additional expense to build the trail, perhaps over a million dollars, is coming from New York and County taxpayers.
    • In a March 2016 news article in the Albany Times Union, the Galesi Group bragged about “donating $100,000” to the cost of the Trail.
    • Maintenance. The Harbor Trail Easement Agreement also states that:

      “4. Maintenance of the Trail. Following construction of the Trail and the commencement of the Uses, Maxon Alco agrees to perform the non-structural maintenance including snowplowing and removal of debris/litter from the Trail. County shall be responsible for all other Trail maintenance, including any required repair or replacement of the Trail pavement/surface and all the Trail fencing, signage, striping and other trail related materials located upon the Easement Areas.”

    • The original C-3 Waterfront Mix-ed Use District provisions included the following sentence, which was removed in the 2015 amendments requested by the Developer: “All maintenance of the waterfront esplanade and amenities shall be the responsibility of the developer.” The original permanent, perpetual easement “assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront” was, of course, also removed at the “request” of the developer.
  • Taxpayer-funded Amenity: Having a shared-use path running through Mohawk Harbor is clearly an asset in selling and renting homes in the complex, and attracting tourists to its hotels. Thus, the short list of Extras on the Amenities page of the project’s River House apartments includes “Direct access to the NYS Hike Bike Trail.” In Philadelphia, Rush Street Gaming has spent millions of dollars to expand an already grand promenade and bike trail. Do our local leaders need more training in negotiating on behalf of our residents and taxpayers?
  • IMG_8698 . . . img_8681.jpg update (Oct. 4, 2018): A set of informational markers were recently installed along the ALCO Heritage Trail. See “Trail markers highlight locomotive plant’s heritage” (Albany Times Union, Sept. 21, 2018, by Tim Blydenburgh). The TU article states, “The county Department of Economic Development and Planning built the signs using $30,000 provided by the county Legislature.  Paul Singer Design, based in Brooklyn, designed the 11 trail markers.”
    • The signs are also worrisome from a safety perspective, as they seem to be placed much closer than necessary to the shared-use path, creating a hazard for pedestrians stopping to read the signs and for cyclists. When this safety point was made to Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, he wrote back “We think the markers look great.”

p.s. You may recall my first Infamy Montage which “celebrated” the opening of Rivers Casino on the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre, when only Snowmen guarded the open gate of the Stockade (while the assigned guards relaxed at a nearby pub), allowing a band of French soldiers and marauding Indians to burn down the Stockade.  Below is my 2nd Infamy Montage below, which suggests that having Snowmen at the Gates of our City has led to an unseemly, unsafe, riverbank, trail, and harbor scene.

BikeTrailInfamy

 follow-up (June 26, 2018): At a public meeting on June 21, 2018 (on the Extension Feasibility Study for the riverfront trail), Schenectady County Metroplex Authority chair Ray Gillen, told the author of this posting that there will be a fence or rail put up along the slope near the ALCO Heritage Trail in Mohawk Harbor. Given this acknowledgement of the possible safety hazard, I wondered whether any temporary safety measures were taken along the Trail — such as yellow tape or safety cones — in anticipation of the first Harbor Jam outdoor concert last Saturday, June 23, at the Amphitheater of Mohawk Harbor, which is across a lawn from the riverbank.

  • follow-up: When taking photos from Riverside Park of the Casino’s July 3 fireworks, using a powerful zoom lens, I saw — as would be expected — a line of people of all ages and sizes standing along the top of the slope in the dark and gazing out over the River at the fireworks.

why not? . . cautiontaperoll . . orangesafetycone

There were no such temporary safety measures Saturday afternoon. At about 3 or 4 cents a yard, what excuse is there for not stringing Caution Tape? Is this another case of our fearless leaders avoiding bad publicity at any cost — and at any risk?

Moreover, apparently due to heavy rain earlier that day, the gravel  between the Trail and the slope was slippery underfoot. When trying to shoot a photo from the gravel, my foot sunk into it, and the gravel slipped toward and under some of the rip-rap stones at the top of the slope. In addition, I saw a full-grown man, while in conversation with another man while standing on the gravel buffer, absent-mindedly step up on the rip-rap on the edge of the slope behind the Casino. What do you supposed little boys and girls will do?

Rivers Casino Brawl (2018 version)

. . let’s hope grandma left early . . YourAngryGrandmaBW

. . It’s Springtime at Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino, and once again, a young gang’s fancy turns to fisticuffs:

Yesterday afternoon online (May 1, 2018), but NOT in print today or the past three days, the Gazette reported “Five arrested after Schenectady casino brawl” (by Andrew Beam).

Five people were arrested after a fight involving approximately 30 people at Rivers Casino & Resort on Sunday.

The fight began at around 3 a.m. and stemmed from an argument between two people, according to Sgt. Jeffrey McCutcheon. However, McCutcheon said it was unclear why the fight began because most of the the people charged did not cooperate with police.

crimescene-casino . . Mutual aid was requested by police officers assigned to the casino, with members of the Rotterdam Police Department, Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office, Scotia Police Department and the Glenville Police Department responding for backup. McCutcheon said officers from those agencies were not needed to make the arrests.

Today, the online edition has more details.

Malcolm Mathias faces a felony second-degree assault charge, accused of placing city officer Charles Stevens in a head lock. Stevens suffered a cut to the left side of his head, according to court documents. . .

“The defendant’s actions resulted in officers getting surrounded by 20 or more persons, getting attacked by other individuals and creating public alarm,” state the charges against both men.

As we learn more about the incident and about media coverage, this posting will be updated.

update (Wed. night, May 2, 2018): The brief article “5 charged at Rivers casino fight” (by Steve Hughes, Albany Times Union) was posted online this afternoon. TU article states that:

Video reportedly shot at the casino and posted on social media during the incident shows a large group of people pushing and shoving as casino security attempts to separate several people. A second video show police officers surrounded by people arguing and appearing to arrest at least two people.

There is no link to the video, but maybe Paul Nelson will locate it when he gets back to work on his Schenectady crime beat.

update (July 25, 2018): See “Police: Table game dispute at Rivers Casino leads to assault: The victim required treatment for swelling, bleeding and needed sutures to his eye, allegations read” (Schenectady Gazette, by Steven Cook, July 24, 2018).

. . Michael Kearsing, 27, of Fisler Avenue, Colonie, intentionally punched a 65-year-old man “several times in the face following a dispute at a table game,” the allegations signed by the victim read.

 

prostitutes help open Rivers Casino (as expected)

casinowalkers

expected by Rush Street?

 Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy disparaged Casino “naysayers” the day our Rivers Casino opened last week, proclaiming an accomplishment that will surely be the core of his legacy. In reality, though, the naysayers the past couple of years have actually been the most vocal supporters of the Casino. In all their public statements, Casino Cheerleaders have been in denial of any negative effects likely to result from the coming of gaming to CaSinectady. An influx of crimes, such as prostitution, was simply not a worry for the Mayor.

rushstreetoncrimech6 Furthermore, Rush Street Gaming continues to issue statements claiming that crime has gone down in other cities were it operates casinos. And, local media continues to offer no rebuttal or cross-examination of such statements. See, for example, the screenshot to the left of a printed statement given by Rush Street to CBSNews6 reporter Hubert Wiggins, in a segment called “Questions asked about new casino’s impact on safety” (Jan. 23, 2017). The segment downplayed any safety problems, and never bothered to ask casino opponents in Schenectady for input, although we have researched and written about the crime issue for almost three years.

Nonetheless, see our posting “City Hall Is Wrong about Crime Going Down in Phila. and Pitts. Casinos” (Oct. 9, 2015), which notes that the Philadelphia casino crime study noted by Rush Street did not cover prostitution or DUI. It was no surprise to us naysayers, therefore, that an alleged “sexual tryst plan” was involved in an arrest the first weekend of Rivers Casino, at its premier restaurant, Duke’s Steakhouse. See Paul Nelson’s Times Union article, Alleged sex tryst plan leads to Schenectady casino arrests: Police say fight stemmed from sexual suggestion,” which was posted online Wednesday evening, February 15, 2017.  To our pleasant surprise, the Gazette also reported on the arrests, and a few others, in its Friday edition, “Argument over group sex leads to arrests at casino: Among a half-dozen charged since last week’s opening” (Steven Cook, Feb. 18, 2017).

  • cbs6wigginscrime

    Hubert Wiggins, WRGB

     Media competition is a good thing, and we need more of it. Let’s hope that the Albany Times Union continues to cover aspects of Schenectady news that are often avoided by the Gazette, which too often seems to see itself as a “friend” and “partner” of local business and government leaders first, and a servant of the public with the responsibilities of a newspaper of record, second.  See our posting rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino” (Dec. 16, 2014). The Gazette’s media partner CBSNews6 also needs to be willing to step up and treat the Casino like any other member of the business community, especially because it is also the recipient of so much government largesse.

  • CasinoCrimeWTEN03Mar2017 Crime Follow-up: News10 (WTEN] had a segment on Rivers Casino crime on March 3, 2017, that raises more questions than it answers. [opening screenshot at the left of this paragraph] According to the piece, by reporter Ayla Ferrone, SPD Sgt. Matt Dearing says that since the casino opened there have been 136 calls but only about 40 of those have been legitimate. Ferrone opines that “Even though the number of times they’ve responded here sounds high, it’s actually pretty normal,” and notes “Sgt. Matt Dearing . . . says anytime there is a major development within any city, crime is sure to increase.”
    • Dearing is quoted as to the 40 “legitimate“ calls, saying they were “Accidents, larcenies from vehicles potentially, unruly customers, and medical calls.”
    • We are also told by Sgt. Dearing that “We do have officers that are dedicated there during certain times to deal with any issue that potentially may arise.”
    • My QQ, in addition to wanting a better breakdown of the types of crimes:
       1) where were the accidents (inside the casino compound or at the rotary?), and how severe? 2) was DUI or DWAI involved? 3) where were the larcenies? 4) were the figures only for calls specifically to Rivers Casino or Mohawk Harbor, as opposed to its vicinity, which includes residential neighborhoods? 5) Is News10 or Sgt. Dearing saying, in effect, “Crime did go up, but you’d expect it would, so the increase is normal”? 6) How did crime stats for the entire City during the relative period compare with prior years? Were these crimes in addition to what we would have expected without the casino, or were they displaced from other parts of the City due to the lure of the Casino?

Back to the So-Called Aborted Tryst. Note that the couple from Massachusetts arrested early last Sunday morning at the Casino insists that there was never a sexual arrangement or talk of sex. See “Mass. couple offers their account of casino fightNo sex arrangement was made, they say” (Gazette, Steven Cook, Feb. 18, 2017; and “Woman disputes police account of casino encounter for group sex”, Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Feb. 22, 207). The couple says that a young woman approached them at the bar at Duke’s and gave them a card about modeling.  They were then “bum-rushed” by at least two women, and perhaps another person, as they were leaving the restaurant. The 21-year old woman from Troy who was arrested after throwing a glass in the bar, apparently gave a false phone number to the police.

crimescene-casino The Massachusetts couple is hoping to get surveillance video to show what actually happened. Either way, it seems clear that there was some sort of organized prostitution activity inside the Casino on its first weekend of business, rather than merely one “working girl” hoping for a payday. That may indeed be the type of local business activity most likely to expand thanks to the opening of Rivers Casino. Let’s see if the Schenectady Police Department, State Police, and the Casino’s private security find a solution to this not-unanticipated problem. Of course, the potential for meeting attractive and available sex partners at the Casino might draw a certain kind of customer who otherwise wouldn’t bother heading over to Mohawk Harbor. (See a detail from Rush Street’s third rendition of the Casino entrance at the top of this posting, which shows pedestrians who are clearly not representative of the Casino’s real customers.) 

casinocrimelogo follow-up (Feb. 20, 2017): Times Union columnist Chris Churchill can’t quite figure out the meaning of the Alleged Tryst Arrest. (see “Romping and rolling at the Schenectady casino“, Feb. 21, 2017). Indeed this Tryst episode might not be as important in the long run as the issue of Rivers Casino being able and willing to adequately police entry to its gaming areas by underage persons, a problem that apparently led to another arrest noted in the Gazette’s first tryst arrest article. In our piece last March on Problem Gambling, we said:

[N]ote the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board press release of May 23, 2012, announcing that SugarHouse [owned by Rush Street under the corporate name HSP Gaming, L.P.] was fined $70,000 “for seven instances where underage individuals [ranging in age from 17 to 20] engaged in gaming.”

The proximity from Union College’s largest dormitory (two blocks) and its entire campus (four blocks), as well as SCCC (a prime partner with the casino, it seems), makes the underage gambling issue more important here than it probably is at most casinos.  In 2015, Trump’s Taj Casino in Atlanta issued a public statement against a college putting a campus next door:

“The facts are that our company does not think having a college next door to the Taj is good for our company. Having kids under 21 who will attempt to gain entry to the casino and engage in activities reserved for those only 21 and older would create numerous problems we do not want, and could damage the Taj’s ability to attract customers and regain its financial health. You do not see a college on the Las Vegas strip. “

casino-PropsHopsRules See our posting “What will the casino mean for Union College students” for related topics, including Rush Street targeting young gamblers, with tactics like dumbing down table games. Click on the thumbnail to the left for a glimpse at its Props & Hops promotion at SugarHouse, which simplifies craps. (See SugarHouse Press Release, April 30, 2014; and “Sugarhouse Develops a New, Simplified Craps Game For Younger Players“, CBS6 Philadelphia, May 1, 2014; SugarHouse Props & Hops Brochure.)

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City Hall is wrong about crime going down near Phila. and Pitts. casinos


LaughingMayorBW  M
ayor Gary McCarthy and electioneering Democratic Council members Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur want us to believe that crime has gone down near the two casinos operated by Rush Street Gaming in Pennsylvania and, therefore, we should have no problem with the Mayor not seeking an agreement with Rush Street Gaming for funds to mitigate the adverse effects on Schenectady and its budget due to increased crime. In the two following comments to recent Schenectady Gazette articles, I have stated as concisely as I can the error in City Hall’s facts and reasoning about the casino and crime, offering links to fuller discussion and supporting materials. There is also some discussion below on the Mayor’s failure to seek various mitigation agreements with Rush Street, which has been very generous to other cities where the administration negotiated on behalf of the people, rather than seeing itself as Partner and Cheerleader for the casino applicants.

– share this post with this URL: http://tinyurl.com/RiversCasinoCrime

Comment of David Giacalone to Gazette article “Mayoral candidate debate” (October 8, 2015):

smallquestionmark  CRIME? Mayor McCarthy has not been honest about casinos and crime. He and Rush Street like to claim that crime actually went down around its SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia. The study Rush Street cites actually tells a very different and complex story. For a full analysis and links to the actual study go to http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime .

  Here are some of the things McCarthy has not told the people of Schenectady about crime near the SugarHouse casino:

  • Philadelphia PD created a 14-man unit that solely patrols a one-half mile semi-circle around the casino. [A patrol that size would cost $1 million annually in total compensation in Schenectady, or mean even less coverage elsewhere.]
  • The Study did not include DUI or prostitution, two crimes very important to several nearby neighborhoods. .
  • There has been “displacement” of crime from the heavily-patrolled area to an area just past that half-mile radius (analogous to East Front Street, Stockade, College Park, Little Italy, Goose Hill) which has seen very large increases in vehicle theft and vehicle break-ins.
  • That study also says that “Violent street felonies increased in the target area compared with the control area”,* although the increase was only statistically significant in the first couple of years.

  NEWBURGH. Rush Street’s actions in its application for a casino at Newburgh, NY, in 2014 also tell a very different story than its assurances here there will be no more crime increase from the casino than from a WalMart. At Newburgh, Rush Street acknowledged there was likely to be increased crime, spreading into other jurisdictions, and an increase in problem gambling. Mitigation dollars adding up to $2.5 million dollars annually, were promised in Memoranda of Understanding signed with the Cities of Newburgh, Beacon and Middletown, plus three school districts, and nearby Dutchess County. [For more detail, go to the end of the posting found at http://tinyurl.com/casinoMOTT2 ]

  In Schenectady, Rush Street and its “partner” Mayor McCarthy deny there will be an increase in crime, so the Mayor never asked for any payments to help with added public safety expenses, and Rush Street certainly never offered a penny over the gaming revenue tax it will pay to the State, which then sends funds to the County and City. We do not need a Mayor who calls a business that will take hundreds of millions of dollars from some of our poorest and most vulnerable people, and send it to owners in Chicago, his “Partner”. We do not need a Mayor who is deaf, dumb and blind about the problems caused for the residents and businesses of Schenectady by his Partners.

[footnote added] * For example, see “SugarHouse attacks concern casino neighbors” (CBS News10, David Change, Nov. 13, 2010); “Philadelphia casino winner robbed of $13,000“, New York Daily News, May 18, 2015).

 

Comment of David Giacalone to Gazette article “Schenectady Council election forum” (Oct. 9, 2015):

LeesaPSmiles  Sadly, Ms. Perazzo will say just about anything to defend the Casino and its Partner the Mayor, without bothering to check the facts or curb her enthusiasm.

  Residents concerned with the crime problem and expenses the Casino is likely to bring have again this week refuted their claim that crime went down at Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse [see http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime ]. In response, Ms Perazzo and Mr. Kosiur tell us that crime has gone down at Rush Street’s Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, and stress that we will have a State Police Barracks at the Schenectady Casino.

  There will be no “barracks” at Mohawk Harbor, but maybe an office for NY State Police (with a cot?). They will only be policing the actual casino grounds, and not following gamblers who have been drinking for hours onto the nearby streets or watching for car break-ins and prostitution a few blocks away. State Police also do the on-site patrol in the Pittsburgh Rivers Casino, and year after year, that casino has the highest number of crimes out of the dozen casinos in Pennsylvania. A State Police representative told the Pitts. daily newspaper that its high numbers were due to its urban setting. (Well, that’s a relief.)

   Has crime gone down around the Pittsburgh Rivers Casino? After five years of operation, Pittsburgh police are not talking about a reduction of crime. Unlike our Gazette, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will print negative news about its casino. It reported that “Although the casino has brought more crime simply by being there, Pittsburgh police have ‘not seen the type of crime increase everyone has been predicting,’ said Commander RaShall Brackney of the Zone 1 station.” I think Perazzo, Kosiur, and McCarthy know the difference between Not As High As Predicted by Opponents and “Went Down.”

GMcCarthyMug  Finally, the Mayor and his Council handmaidens want us to believe there is no reason for them to have pressed Rush Street Gaming for contributions above the mandatory taxes they will be paying. Tell that to the people of Pittsburgh. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in its first five years, the casino estimates that it has paid out $744.7 in state and local taxes AND AN ADDITIONAL $48.6 million in contributions, including $37.5 million for Consol Energy Center [home of the Pittsburgh Penguins and rock shows], $3 million each to the Hill District and the Northside Leadership Conference, and $531,112 in donations to community groups. Imagine what such funds could be doing for our community.

p.s. Mr. Mayor, please stop counting your Casino Chickens based on Rush Street estimates. Pittsburgh Rivers was projected to generate $427.8 million in slot machine gross terminal revenue in its first year but after five years has yet to come close to that number. Last year, the Post-Gazette said it produced $284.3 million in such revenue in 2013. “We’re really happy with the performance,” said Greg Carlin, Rivers CEO.

By the way, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article mentioned above in my Comment about Pittsburgh is titled “After 5 years Rivers Casino seen as good neighbor” (by Mark Belko, August 9, 2014). How did it “earn” that local response? By working with and acceding to the demands of local interest groups. For example:

  • By reversing its attempt to charge $50 to park in its garage during a Stealers pre-season game.
  • By giving millions of dollars to neighborhood groups and community organization.
  • By agreeing to pay over $7 million a year for 30 years to the sports authority that operates the home arena of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and puts on rock shows.
  • By making important road and traffic improvements “after the Steelers and Pirates forced the issue” to avoid impending chaos.
  • By reaching out to an opponent, the community group Riverlife, for help in shaping the casino’s riverfront. The result, according to Riverlife’s CEO, is “one of the most beautiful privately funded public riverfront parks in all of the Downtown area.” [In contrast to a beautiful park, Rush Street Rivers Schenectady had demanded the removal of a public access guarantee from our riverfront zoning, and appears to be providing no area for sitting or picnicking along the riverbank for the public, but only a bike-ped path, which is an amenity that will help attract upscale residents to Mohawk Harbor.]

red check For more information that you have never seen in the Gazette that helps to explain why we opposed the casino, now work to avoid casino-related problems, and fault the Mayor for walking away from millions of dollars and guarantees that other Mayors would have won from Rush Street Gaming, see:

  1. Rigging the news: The Gazette and the Schenectady Casino“.
  2. Money on the Table“, and linked materials

This chart shows just how generous Rush Street has been when seeking to operate a casino in other cities or towns (from “Rush Street’s Giveaways“; click on it for a larger version):

did crime go up near the SugarHouse Casino?

SugarHouseEntryway

Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino

Prior to the 2010 opening of the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, community groups warned that the casino would lead to an increase in neighborhood crime.  However, according to a news release posted on July 16th by Drexel University, a new study by two Philadelphia researchers “reveals that these concerns were unfounded.” Nonetheless, before you let down your guard or breathe a sigh of relief, please read on.

That claim is based on this conclusion in the study (emphases added):

In summary, there is no evidence that the opening and operation of the casino had a significantly detrimental effect on the immediate neighborhood in terms of vehicle crime, drug activity, residential burglary or violent street felonies.  

The SugarHouse crime study is entitled “A Partial Test of the Impact of a Casino on Neighborhood Crime;” it was conducted by by Lallen T. Johnson, PhD, an assistant professor of criminal justice in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Jerry H. Ratcliffe, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University; and was published online on by Palgrave MacMillan’s Security Journal.  For coverage in the popular press, see “Study says crime has not risen around SugarHouse Casino” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Vernon Clark, July 19, 2014); “No Crime Increase Around SugarHouse: Study (NBC10 Philadelphia, July 19, 2014). And see, “The Elusive link between casinos and crime(Pacific-Standard Magazine: The Science of Society, by Lauren Kirchner, July 29, 2014), which ignores the many weaknesses of the study.

 You can safely bet that we are going to hear about this study here in Schenectady, because SugarHouse is operated by Rush Street Gaming and owned by SugarHouse HSP Gaming, LP, which is primarily controlled by Neil Bluhm and his family. (see Pa. Gaming Board ownership listing, at 13-15).  Rush Street Gaming and Bluhm are, of course, the applicants seeking to build a casino in Schenectady.  We are, of course, opponents who have raised concerns over increased crime in the nearby neighborhood.

As indicated above, Johnson and Ratcliffe looked at four categories of crime: violent street felonies, vehicle crime (both theft of vehicles and break-ins), drug crime, and residential burglary in the surrounding community.  [They did not look at DUI or prostitution, two crimes on the short list of worries in the vicinity of an urban casino.]  Their data covered 80 months prior to the opening of the casino and 16 months after the opening.  The authors hoped their work would help answer a perennial question among crime scientists:

sleuth Has the casino’s presence led to increased crime in the immediate area and if not, has crime been simply displaced to nearby locations?

Prior studies have looked at crime statistics at a city or county level. Here, the authors used “geolocated crime data” to examine changes in crime volume in the immediate neighborhood of the casino since its opening; that “casino patrol area” covered an area one-half mile square.  They also looked at crime data for a “displacement area” just outside the “casino patrol area” to see whether the casino or related security and policing had positive or negative effects on that nearby area. (see Figure 1) The displacement area was about the same size as the casino patrol area.

Note: using the same distances as those in the study, one half-mile square, the Stockade District’s southeastern border would fall at the line between the casino patrol area and the displacement area, placing virtually the entire Stockade neighborhood within that potential displacement zone. See Map at the foot of this posting.  Union College’s campus and its College Park off-campus housing complex are also within the endangered areas.

– Figure 1 from SugarHouse Crime Study: map showing data areas –

SugarHouse Map- Figure 1 from  “A Partial Test of the Impact of a Casino on Neighborhood Crime.”

Ninety-six months of crime incident data were examined to determine the extent to which crime counts changed within the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown after the opening of a new casino.  As stated in the Drexel U. Press Release below, key findings include (emphasis added):

  • Violent street felonies increased at a rate slightly greater than violence in the control area; however, this increase was not statistically significant when examined in the context of the longer trend since 2004.
  • Vehicle crime decreased in the casino area; however, there was substantial displacement and the reductions in vehicle crime were not statistically significant over the long term.
  • Both residential burglary and drug crime decreased in the casino area (again though, not significantly from a statistical perspective) and there were reductions in these crimes in the buffer areas.

Reading that set of Key Findings does not leave me quite as sure as the headlines suggest that we can stop being concerned about more neighborhood crime if Schenectady gets a casino.  Living in the Stockade District, which is in the “displacement zone” of the proposed Schenectady casino, it is difficult to ignore the large increase in vehicle-related crimes. The authors say the increase was not significant “over the long term,” which clearly suggests that it was significant in the short-term, where we actually reside, stroll the neighborhood, buy insurance, watch house price trends, etc.

The authors also say (at 14), regarding “displacement” to the nearby neighborhood:

“The displacement findings are interesting. In anticipation of the casino opening, the 26th Police District commander created the special patrol district, to which were assigned additional police officers. The increased police attention in the special patrol area may have led to the displacement of vehicle crime to the surrounding area. Officers that were re-assigned to the patrol area were not replaced in the rest of the district. It is possible that the relative reduction in personnel outside of the casino area reduced patrol deterrence in the displacement area, while suppressing crime in the target area.”

In their conclusion, Johnson and Ratcliffe modestly state the obvious:

“Findings here do not settle the debate on casino and crime linkages, but contribute to a growing body of knowledge and suggest a need for more neighborhood level research. At the least, findings demonstrate that oft-stated community concerns regarding local crime conditions with the addition of a casino to a neighborhood were not borne out by the SugarHouse Casino example.

Reason for Concern?  Yes. For one thing, some types of crime out of the four categories studied did go up.  The study states:

  • graphup “Violent street felonies increased in the target area compared with the control area.” [for examples, see “SugarHouse attacks concern casino neighbors” (CBS News10, David Change, Nov. 13, 2010); “Philadelphia casino winner robbed of $13,000“, New York Daily News, May 18, 2015); And,
  • “Vehicle crime decreased in the target area relative to the control area; however, there was substantial displacement indicating that the introduction of the casino made the vehicle crime problem in the combined treatment/buffer area worse than before the casino was opened.”

Beyond those worrisome increases, the failure to include DUI and prostitution is quite significant.  We expect a major increase in vehicles cutting through the Stockade, with drivers who have been drinking for hours, or weary employees and interns, using its narrow, dark streets as a way to avoid scrutiny on the well-lit Erie Boulevard, or simply to take the shorter route to SCCC or the bridge to Scotia and destinations heading west on Route 5.  And, we believe the Stockade’s shadowy streets and available apartments are ready-made for the expected increase in prostitution once the casino starts operation.

Furthermore, we need to ask whether the experience in a city 20 times larger than Schenectady can tell us much about what would happen here.  That issue, in all its facets, needs quite a bit of thought.

More important from a practical point of view, however, is the fact that Johnson and Ratcliffe admit their findings/conclusions are, “Net of unexamined police patrol changes and casino opening simultaneity effects.”  I have nothing useful to add on the issue of the “opening simultaneity effects,” but it appears that the “unexamined police patrol changes” may indeed be significant.  Thus, the very last sentence of the study states (emphasis added):

“Any potential significant crime increases either did not occur, or were effectively controlled by a reassignment of existing local police resources.”

That small word “or” raises big questions.   Here’s how the authors describe the police patrol changes that occurred in September 2010:

red check “When the casino opened in September 2010, the 26th Police District created a special casino patrol area. This area of slightly less than half a square mile (shown in Figure 1) is patrolled by one sergeant and 13 officers who provide coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

It seems to this layperson, that 14 additional officers covering an area one-half mile square in shifts that take time of day and other conditions into account, might indeed have a significant deterrent effect.  In addition, the Casino itself is required by the Gaming Commission to have at least 3 uniformed security men at the door, and has as many as 7 more in the parking lot at  night. Furthermore, the State Police cover the floor of the casino.  As the authors might say, there are a lot of crime managers and guardians on hand in an effort to prevent crime.

Therefore, it appears that we at the very least need to add a big asterisk to those headlines about no increase in crime, and include a footnote with the caveat: “if you’re willing to spend a lot of money on a Police Casino Squad, or to leave other parts of town under-policed.”

GW dollar According to SalaryWiz.com, the medium total compensation package for a patrol officer in Schenectady is $71,965.  When we add the sergeant’s pay to that of his 13 underlings, a 14-officer squad would cost a little over $1 million to replicate in Schenectady.  Would our thrifty City Council pull some of the already scarce night-time patrols from other neighborhoods to keep the Casino Patrol Area adequately staffed?

 Such considerations turn this disclaimer by the authors into a major understatement:

“First, we should note that this is not a stand-alone quasi-experimental evaluation of the introduction of a casino to a neighborhood, due to the additional complication of the Philadelphia Police Department instigating a dedicated patrol to the neighborhood. The additional patrolling from 14 assigned officers may have acted to provide additional deterrence to any criminal activity.”

Johnson & Ratcliffe then say they cannot test in this study “Whether this is sufficient additional patrol for an area to have any impact.”   Most of us would hazard a guess that the patrol is indeed a significant deterrent with a meaningful impact on the crime rates.  And, in the Schenectady context, we would strongly disagree with the authors’ cavalier conclusion “that any additional resources were modest at best.”

So, we’ll be leaving our Crime Will Increase listing up on the Issues Page.  And, we’ll wonder, as we did all Spring, why only Councilman Vincent Riggi thought the City needed to do an analysis of the additional expenses it would be likely to incur if we had a casino operating at the old ALCO site.

CasinoFreePhila I’m going to let our readers answer the headline question at the top of this posting for themselves.

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WikiMap-SchdyCasinoNeighborhood

wikimapia map of the Casino-East Front-Stockade neighborhood; click on the image for a larger versioin –

will a casino bring more crime?

Crime statistics about casinos are tricky and it is difficult to make broad statements about casinos and crime, because casinos are located in such diverse places and there are relatively few casinos in cities.  Nonetheless, it seems rather clear that urban casinos can expect an increase in certain kinds of crime, especially near the casino and along major arterial roads leading to it.  The potential is too great, we believe, for any nearby neighborhood to merely accept the risk and “wait and see”.  Once a casino complex is built, any increase in crime or perception of increased jeopardy on its streets will mean a reduction in the quality of life (and property values) for those living in its immediate vicinity.

SugarHouseEntryway follow-up: SugarHouse in Philadelphia: see our posting “did crime go up near the SugarHouse Casino?“, which discusses a study that some say demonstrates there was no significant increase in crime in the neighborhood of the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, which is operated by Rush Street Gaming.  Our analysis suggests, to the contrary, that those who live near a proposed urban casino should continue to be quite worried. And see, (Aug. 4, 2014).  .

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The New York State Task Force on Casino Gambling – Report to the Governor (August 30, 1996), was thorough in its research, looking at existing studies and doing some of its own.  The Task Force Report was in favor of having upstate NY casinos, and found that “Casino gambling was accompanied by few significant or recurring crimes problems.” [217]  However, it distinguished between rural and urban locations, noting that the more rural a location, the less the probability of a significant increase in crime. “By contrast, the towns on the main routes to Atlantic City experienced spillover crime, which rose with proximity to the city.” [a t219] More generally, the Report continues:

  • “casinos in urban areas should be concerned with the potential for prostitution, panhandling, pick-pocketing and purse snatching. Urban casinos would be adversely affected by an unsafe urban environment, so that more resources would have to be devoted to maintain order and protect citizens from street crime.” [at 219]
  • “The frequency of theft, other property crime, and traffic-related offenses is likely to increase in and around a casino, with the extent of the increase largely dependent upon the opportunities presented by the location, historical crime patterns, and the daily visitor population.”

JailBird Furthermore, there were three notable exceptions to their finding that “Any growth in economically motivated crime is usually not accompanied by an upsurge in violent offenses in casino locales.” [at 218] Thus, “Researchers found greater increases in violent crime in localities most accessible to Atlantic City than in other communities in the region. Gulfport, Mississippi statistics show major increases in assaults (all levels), robberies and arson. And, while crime statistics are not available, Tunica County, Mississippi has experienced substantial increases in felony indictments and lower court filings since riverboat casinos began operating in 1992.”

Note: Atlantic City has a population of about 40,000 and Gulfport about 70,000, quite comparable in size to Schenectady’s 60,000.

The Report notes that the enormous increase in crime in Atlantic City from 1977-1980 (violent up 130%, non-violent up 176%), has been “misinterpreted”. The number of crimes may have gone up a lot, the Report says, but the increase in the number of persons in the City means “the risk of individualized victimization appears to have fallen slightly according to visitor-adjusted crime.”  I am not sure that is particularly re-assuring, especially to those who live or work near a casino, where the visitors are concentrated.

The Report adds that: “in sum, every factor that might affect opportunities for crime should be considered in casino planning.  The size of the facilities and overnight accommodations, hours of operation, types of games, age eligibility of patrons, availability of alcohol, and possible stake limits may affect the degree to which a casino causes crime in the community. The goal must be crime control.” [219]

NoloSharkS Problem Gambling and Crime: Another conclusion in the Task Force Report is: “With the advent of legalized casino gambling, pathological gamblers will likely commit additional income-generating crimes, though their prevalence and rate of criminal activity cannot be projected.” Thus, “Research indicates that there is a relationship between pathological gambling and economically motivated, non-violent offenses. Larceny, embezzlement, check forgery, loan fraud and tax evasion are thought to be the most common. . . . [I]f the number of compulsive gamblers grows with expanded availability and more convenient access to casino gambling, a corresponding increase in offending can be expected.”

Another study of interest is “The Effects of Casino Gambling on Crime”  (B. Stitt, D. Giacopassi, M. Nichols 1998), which was funded by a U.S. Justice Department grant and did a statistical analysis of 7 jurisdictions with fairly new casinos, comparing before and after crime stats.  It looked at both the official population of a city and the “at risk” population when visitors are added in.   Stitt et al concluded that there was a statistically significant increase in DUI, larceny/burglary, and family offenses in locations that established casinos in the 1990s. [at 16]  For me, the increase in family offenses is particularly telling, as it shows how the negative effects of gambling losses reach into the family of gamblers, as money for housing, food, clothing and children’s needs is spent at the casino.