Schenectady DRI should fine-tune our Real Downtown

. . and, stop favoring & subsidizing the Galesi-Casino Gang

SUMMARY: As has happened often in the last half dozen years, State, City and County officials in charge of development and planning appear to be putting the interests of the owners and developers of Mohawk Harbor and the Rivers Casino before sound planning principles and strategies and, more important, before the interests of the general public in Schenectady City and County. The ten million dollars available through Schenectady’s DRI [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] grant should be focused on further improving the handful of blocks that residents traditionally consider to be our Downtown, with more of the things that will enhance living, working, visiting, learning, playing, socializing, shopping and just strolling there. Schenectady DRI should refine our already revived Real Downtown, and not construct a fiction that stretches “Downtown” to Mohawk Harbor and invents a demand to walk to and spend money there.

DowntownSchdToHarbor

. . Above: The map returned when I asked Google Maps for the walking directions from Downtown Schenectady to Mohawk Harbor . . 

NOTE FYI: DRI Meetings have been postponed due to COVID-19 virus concerns.

DRI-postponed

It is impossible for outsiders to know the effects on Schenectady DRI of recent public discussion of Conflicts of Interest, and of the Favoritism and Implausible Assumptions discussed in thus posting.  I hope members of the Leadership Committee are thoughtfully considering these issues, and that concerned citizens voice their opinions.

 . .

. . above: views east (R) and west from State and Jay Streets

Jay Street Pedestrian Mall

When was the last time you were enjoying a visit to Downtown Schenectady, on the Proctors Block, at the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall, or even Mill Lane’s Frog Alley, and thought, “Let’s walk down to Mohawk Harbor”? Did you add, “We could walk back here to our car, with shopping bags and a full tummy.”? And, did your companion enthusiastically reply, “Sure, it’s only a little over a mile, and it’s a charming walk”?

If such a conversation would seem as odd to you as it does to me, you might be surprised to know that the Schenectady Application for a DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) grant begins:

DRI Schenectady links the Proctors Block and Lower State Street via a rejuvenated Erie Boulevard as well as other connections to Mohawk Harbor which will be adding attractions and more visitors.

Moreover, in a section titled New Retail and Entertainment Development at Mohawk Harbor the Schenectady DRI Application also stresses (at 29; underscoring added):

DRI Schenectady is very focused on increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor, already the leading tourist destination in the Capital Region. With support of DRI funding, the team behind development of the existing Harbor site – the Galesi Group, Metroplex and Rivers Casino & Resort are planning the next phase of the development project. The concept is a 100,000 square foot development to be located between the existing casino and marina on land that borders the riverfront. The development would feature a mix of retail and entertainment tenants. The project is research and data driven.

over a mile on foot from Proctors

After two decades of truly revitalizing our “real” Downtown, and with fill-in and refinement projects readily apparent there and proposed for that part of our City, Metroplex and City Hall seem again to be abandoning sound planning principles and denying human nature to come to the aid of what I call the Galesi-Casino Gang.

Successful downtowns in small and medium-size cities are compact, with much to do and attract the eye within “walking distance”. As a Brookings Institute study states (at 13), “Walkable urbanism starts with urban entertainment venues and retail that are within walking distance of one another.” As a Wisconsin University article puts it: Communities with successful downtowns “have an expansive list of attractions and amenities that serve as pedestrian traffic generators. All are within walking distance of each other, creating tight and effective traffic generating zones.” They are, of course, echoing the advice of the legendary Jane Jacobs in her article “Downtown is for People.”

IMG_1098Despite this common sense approach to a successful Downtown, DRI Schenectady somehow equates “revitalization” of downtown with improved connection to Mohawk Harbor, while ignoring the Stockade neighborhood (and its Riverside Park, which already offers access for pedestrians to the Mohawk River and attractive green space). Instead, DRI Schenectady touts proposals to “Take advantage of existing opportunities to increase connectivity (Jay Connector, ALCO Tunnel)”. However, whether using Jay Street, the ALCO Tunnel, or the upgraded “Erie Corridor”, Mohawk Harbor is more than a mile away, with much of that distance having no shade and few “attractions”. [see the two Slideshows below of the Jay St. and Erie Blvd. routes] Sprinkling in “public art” and adding LED lights along the way won’t significantly change the appeal of such a long walk.

Mohawk Harbor is not “walking distance” from our newly revitalized Downtown!

No amount of wishful thinking will make Mohawk Harbor walking distance from our real Downtown for the vast majority of residents or tourists. For urban planning purposes,  “Walkable” does not mean “capable of being walked”. As the expert author of the Brookings study linked above puts it: “Since the rise of cities 8,000 years ago, humans have only wanted to walk about 1500 feet [0.28 mi.]”, unless they are going to or from an alternative form of transportation (or engaging in an actual exercise routine).

  • At his weblog HumanTransit.org (April 24, 2011), public transit consultant Jarrett Walker concludes: “If you have to choose a single walking distance standard for all situations, the most commonly cited standard is 400m or 1/4 mi.  Europe tends to be comfortable with slightly longer distances.”
  • Of course, as a 2012 comprehensive study of walking distances concluded,

    “There is substantial variability in the distance and duration of walking trips by purpose and population subgroups.” . . .  . “The shortest distances and durations were observed for trips for meals. . . Shopping and dog-walking trips were only slightly longer in distance than trips for meals.”

  • For comparison to the 1.2-mile walk to Mohawk Harbor from Proctors, Frog Alley Brewing, at the evolving Mill Lane Artisan District on Lower State Street, is 0.3 miles from Proctors, and Gateway/Liberty Plaza is 0.4 miles from Proctors; Katie O’Byrnes on Erie Blvd (and Wall Street) is 0.2 miles; Yoga Bliss, south of State Street at 140 Erie Blvd. is 0.3 miles away; Great Flats Brewery on Lafayette at Franklin Street is less than 0.3.

Station-KatieO-2018 . . Katie O’Byrnes, just north of State St., seen the day the Train Station got its new golden dome . .

    • SchdyDRI-BoundaryWhat About the Stockade? For some reason, the Stockade Historic District is not part of the “DRI Schenectady DRI Boundary”. [map above] The Van Dyck Lounge with Mad Jack’s Brewery on Union Street near N. College is 0.4 miles from Proctors. Riverside Park, at the other extreme of the Stockade, which does offer a riverbank experience and open green space, is 0.7 miles from Proctors, but only 0.2 miles up Washington Avenue from Gateway/Liberty Plaza, and about 3/10th of a mile from Mill Lane.

Do the people of Schenectady really want to send business and foot-traffic from the Downtown core to Mohawk Harbor? By focusing on “increasing visitation to Mohawk Harbor”, the officials leading our local Government’s planning, development and policy efforts won’t simply be wasting dollars that could have genuinely improved our Downtown. They will be helping to generate the feared Substitution Effect: Substituting spending in and near a casino, or other private development, for the leisure time and money that would have been spent by residents at other local establishments.

Can existing (surviving) downtown businesses — eateries, retail merchandise shops, specialty boutiques, art galleries, etc. — withstand losing any significant amount of business to Mohawk Harbor? [For a smile, see Good for the Plywood Business, a poster from the successful campaign No Casino in Downtown Hamilton]

A DEMAND for MORE RETAIL at MOHAWK HARBOR?

Our DRI Leaders state there is a great excess demand for retail that justifies spending taxpayer funds to funnel people to the privately-owned Mohawk Harbor. They also note that Mohawk Harbor is already a “leading destination”, according to DRI leaders, in their Schenectady DRI Application:

The harbor is now home to Rivers Casino & Resort, two new hotels, a marina, over 200 new apartments, new condominiums, tech office buildings as well as greenspace and bike trails. The Harbor has clearly become a leading destination – an entertainment and tech center that is one of the largest and most successful waterfront developments in Upstate New York.

 

KarenZ-WCasinoPromisesIndeed, we are constantly told of the tens of thousand of people who go to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino and Hotel. At the end of the Jan. 27, 2020 City Council Meeting, Council member Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas told us (at 54:20 of the OSM video linked above) that Rivers hosted over 200 conferences, meetings and special events in 2019, “bringing over 20,000 people to Schenectady County”; that Landing Hotel is ranked 7th in Capital Region for overnight stays; that Rivers was the first upstate casino to host sports wagering (bringing in a new demographic group to the County); plus, the Casino holds its annual summer Harbor Jam series with live performances and large crowds at the Marina.

Yes, all those people are indeed coming to Mohawk Harbor (of course, many of those visitors already live in the City or County of Schenectady). But, the numbers do not appear to be creating a major demand for retail at Mohawk Harbor. Rivers Casino opened three years ago, followed about 2.5 years ago by its Landing Hotel, the Marina and Amphitheater, and River House (which has over 200 apartments). It also has a free trolley service from Downtown (heavily-subsidized by Metroplex and CDTA); a CYCLE! bike-share station; the ALCO Heritage Bike and Pedestrian Trail; and the advantage of the constant promotion of the Casino, its Convention Center and Hotel by the well-and-publicly–funded Discover Schenectady. Nonetheless, the very visible and tangible evidence does not support the claim of a great excess of retail demand at Mohawk Harbor. There is, instead, a great excess of empty retail space.

The evidence strongly indicates that the folks who are in, or wish to be in, a retail business have not seen the potential for success at Mohawk Harbor, despite the efforts and promises of the Galesi Group, Rush Street Gaming, and Metroplex, and a large quantity of free media that repeats Galesi and Casino promises like scripture. The evidence is not just the empty spots and filler signs on the giant pylon that Galesi Group demanded be placed on Erie Boulevard for Mohawk Harbor to advertise its retail tenants (photo at left, taken Feb. 28, 2020). It is the actual list of arguably “retail” establishments at Mohawk Harbor that belies the claims of Schenectady DRI, despite the site being a “leading destination” in the Capital Region. Outside of the Casino itself, with its eateries, and the Dunkin’ Donuts and Capitol Bank over by the Rotary, this is the full list of “retail” at Mohawk Harbor: as of the first week of March 2020, three years after the Casino opened:

  1. Druther’s restaurant and brew pub
  2. Shaker & Vine restaurant
  3. Ellis Urgent Care and Medicine

Instead of bustling retail outlets in the “125,000 square feet of harborside retail/dining,” promised at the Mohawk Harbor website, and in Planning and Council meetings, we have an unbroken array of empty storefront windows like we have not seen since the worst days of downtown Schenectady. (Actually, the percentage of empty storefronts in downtown Schenectady was never this bad.) Only the dumpster-style bright yellow bollards that are ubiquitous around the Casino [180 of them], present a design scheme as predominant at Mohawk Harbor as its blue and white Retail Space Available signs. Click on the following collage, which shows Harbor retail as of the end of February 2020.

. . east of the Shaker & Vine Restaurant there is no retail, either on the harbor front [above] or along Harbor Way [below], but only those blue signs and the stretches of banner paper hiding the empty storefronts . .

    • Also, I was surprised to learn this week, that the only non-food retail establishment inside the Casino, Splash Spa, closed in December 2018. In addition, not only has no spa or other retail establishment taken its place, the Casino’s Landing Hotel is also without a salon spa. Apparently, neither the Casino’s annual Luck Is a Lady event, nor other events aimed at women, has created a demand for time at the Spa before or after visiting the Casino, its Convention Center, or restaurants.
    • Similarly, a large sign went up quite awhile ago for a Nail Salon on the Erie Boulevard side of Harbor Center, along its parking lot. But, earlier this week there was still no indication of any work being done to prepare the inside for a business.

SuggestionBulb. . DRI should consider helping to fill the empty storefronts on the 200 Block of State St., truly in the heart of Downtown Schenectady .. 

DSCF5547. . DSCF5548 . . 200 State St. empty

. above: [L & M] 236 State St.; [R] 200 State St. .

SKEPTICAL about DEMAND for PEDESTRIAN CONNECTORS

. . the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall looks and feels like a “downtown block”. . 

A recent photoshoot stroll up both Jay Street and Erie Boulevard north of Liberty Street leaves me very skeptical that there exists any significant demand from the public to walk the mile from our Real Downtown to Mohawk Harbor. More important, perhaps, there appears to be no amount of sprucing up (façade improvement, arrays of LED bulbs, a sprinkling of “public art”), or the other options suggested to and by DRI Schenectady, that would create that demand. There may be places along the non-downtown sections of Jay Street and Erie Boulevard that could be stand-alone destinations for a meal, or a history lesson, for those driving, biking, or coming from a walking distance, but that is a separate issue from (1) how to “revitalize” downtown, and (2) funneling visitors to Mohawk Harbor to help the bottom-line of our largest developer and its casino tenant.

Jay Street to Little Italy to ALCO Tunnel

Is there likely to be a demand to walk from our real downtown, up Jay Street and then through a lighted and refurbished ALCO Tunnel on the way to Mohawk Harbor? A stroll up Jay Street from its Pedestrian Mall to the abandoned ALCO Tunnel did not leave me convinced. What do you think?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • The ALCO Tunnel is 0.5 miles up Jay Street from Proctors Theater (a ten or eleven-minute walk). As a “connector”, the ALCO Tunnel would bring you out near the 1400 block of Erie Blvd. (across from Madison Street), at the former location of the Grossman’s Bargain Outlet and the upcoming home of an AllTown Market. They are located an additional 0.5 miles from Mohawk Harbor Way (eleven minutes more). See image of Google Street Maps on the right of this blurb.
  • Pet Peeve, but Relevant to Desirable Walking Conditions: Unless you happen to be momentarily in the shade of a building, there is virtually no shade the entire way on Jay Street, nor up Erie Boulevard.

update (March 20, 2020): The larger of the two Italian restaurants in Schenectady’s already-disappointing Little Italy closed for good this week, with the NY Pause declared by Gov. Cuomo due to the COVID-19 crisis the last straw. Per an article in the Gazette, “We just couldn’t afford to keep it open,” said co-owner Connie Hume on Wednesday. [And see, Times Union and WRGB News6 coverage.]

 ERIE BOULEVARD NORTH OF LIBERTY STREET

. . above: elements of the “upgraded” Erie Blvd. touted by DRI: new sidewalks and crosswalks (some with talking-nagging walk signals); (too) many lamp-posts; and scrawny (often dead or dying) trees. .

the walk from Proctors to Mohawk Harbor

The Schenectady DRI Application gives this description of its vision for the Erie Boulevard connection to Mohawk Harbor [at 26; underscoring added]:

Erie Boulevard Updates

Erie Boulevard features new sidewalks, trees, LED lights, a new roundabout in front of Mohawk Harbor and many other upgrades. A new train station helps define the Erie corridor as a growing commercial area. Schenectady is grateful for the leadership of Governor Cuomo and NYS DOT in making the new train station a reality. As Erie is the main connecting road between Downtown and Mohawk Harbor, further upgrades need to happen as part of DRI Schenectady.

[The AMTRAK RAIL BRIDGE “Trestle”] There is a large Amtrak rail bridge that crosses Erie Boulevard and serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor. Within the next few months Amtrak, NYSDOT and the City of Schenectady will be working together to light up this bridge creating a visual linkage where a barrier now exists. In addition, a new $4 million Alltown Market will begin construction on Erie providing healthy food choices to local residents. [Ed. Note: It will apparently be a gas station and an upscale convenience store with tables.] This new market will be built on the site of a long vacant lumber yard.

Since its inception, Metroplex has successful[ly] administered a façade matching grant program. The program provides a 50/50 match to businesses that invest in improving their buildings with a special focus on the façade. To date, over 100 facades have been improved. If DRI Schenectady is funded Metroplex will place a special focus on completing facades along the Erie Boulevard corridor helping to improve the visual appeal and commercial viability of this corridor. The goal would be to complete 10 facades at a cost of $750,000 in matching funds.

[Editor’s Trestle-Bridge Dissent: It is hard to agree with the DRI notion that the Amtrak Trestle bridge over Erie Blvd., just north of Union Street, “serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor“. The bridge itself is, in my opinion, about the only element of visual interest as you walk or drive from Liberty Street up Erie Blvd. The trestle camouflages the blandness of Erie Boulevard heading toward the Harbor. Immediately below is a view of the trestle when coming up Erie Blvd. [R], and the “streetscape” that you see when leaving the underpass — which basically would be the view without the trestle as you pass Union Street. 

             . .

The problem is not that the trestle-bridge is a visual barrier. The trestle’s underpass is an aesthetic and safety barrier that few people would use if it can be avoided. The walls of the underpass are so dirty and ugly, and its sidewalks so narrow and unkempt (with leaves, debris and snow virtually never removed along the walls), as speeding traffic swoops past the pedestrian. The failure to address these issues already, given the millions spent to upgrade the Boulevard, strongly suggests the lack of interest by residents or tourists in walking up Erie Boulevard any serious distance. Even if totally spruced up, of course, it cannot “funnel” people who do not want to walk the distance to Mohawk Harbor from Downtown. It might, however, make it more pleasant to get to Mike’s for a hotdog or bagel, Stewart’s for some ice cream (if it remains after the Alltown Market convenience store opens on the next block), or Morrette’s for a steak sandwich.

Erie Boulevard, north of the busy State State intersection and the Schenectady Train Station at Liberty Street, seems far from a natural connector or bridge for pedestrians to Mohawk Harbor. Check out this Slideshow tour, and see what you think.

. . this Slideshow has photos from a walk north on Erie from Liberty to Rush St. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 . . click on the Schdy DRI Feb. Power Point for many of the finalist proposals . . 

This set of square tiles contains photos from my return stroll from the Rotary back to Liberty Street on February 28, 2020. It seems to be a long and uninteresting walk, because it is. Click on a tile for a larger, full version of the photo. Go left to right to follow the route.

.

remaining Harbor “green space” 24Feb2020

GREEN-SPACE at MOHAWK HARBOR

. . above: Google Satellite View of Mohawk Harbor, showing remaining green-space in the northeast section of the project. 

. . below: DRI description of Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Development.

. . see p. 75 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation . .

Because the Casino Applicant demanded so much ground-level parking, Mohawk Harbor has far less green space than one would have expected at Schenectady’s only remaining location for waterfront development. The Casino also got concessions allowing bigger footprints for its buildings in exchange for adding amenities for the public. (The bike-ped trail mandated in our Code is indeed an amenity, but instead of fully providing funding for it, the developer allowed the State and County taxpayer to pay 85 or 90% of the cost.)

The authors of the Schenectady DRI Application seem to be proud of the Harbor’s green-space. Yet, they propose to allow and subsidize a giant Entertainment and Retail complex, 100,000 sq ft., that would take over much, if not most, of the remaining Mohawk Harbor green-space. To permanently remove such a large portion of the open space at Mohawk Harbor for a use that has no water-front value, and no unique contribution to the City, County, or Region, seems unwise. We should also ask whether, like the Harbor Center buildings and River House, Metroplex plans to give a PILOT or other property tax breaks on the new entertainment-retail complex.

Choosing the Galesi-Casino Harbor Entertainment Development proposal is inappropriate, for at least three other reasons of policy and equity:

1] The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming greatly reduced the amount of green-space at the Harbor, diminishing its attractiveness, and restricting the ability of the public to enjoy a riverbank experience:  They did that damage by insisting that City Council remove from the then-existing Waterfront District Zoning Code, the requirement that any developer at the old ALCO plant location: File a permanent easementfor the purpose of assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront,” with the owner responsible for upkeep. [see screen image of former code provision on the right].

Did that change matter for the aesthetics and enjoyment of the waterfront? The first image below is the rendering submitted by the Rivers Casino applicants following the Waterfront District C-3 Code at the time of the application:

We did not receive an attractive, gently sloping, landscaped riverbank, suitable for picnics, frolicking and play, strolling, sitting and reclining, romance, etc.. Instead, Galesi Group, the Casino, Metroplex, our Planning Commission and Office, and Mayor McCarthy, removed the public access requirement, and ignored the Zoning Code mandates to preserve as much as possible of the natural features of the riverbank, and to place the Trail as close as reasonably possible to the riverbank. As a result, they allowed this to happen to our only potential spot for additional riverfront public access and enjoyment:

 . .

  • In addition, City Hall and Metroplex allowed the developer to locate the bike-ped path closer to that steep riprap bank than was allowed under the amended Code the Casino Gang dictated to City Council. (See our post, “Restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor”  (Aug. 10, 2015). After pressure from the editor of this website for quick action to remedy the hazard caused by the steep slope, the County installed a fence for the safety of the public (on foot or bikes, or wheelchairs), but violated required standards for structures along a bike path — putting the fence only two feet away from the path (instead of 3 to 5 feet), leaving very little space for a cyclist needing to quickly avoid others users on the path, and for the public to view the River safely and comfortably when standing along the fence. (See our post, “Poorly-planned safety fence going up along Mohawk Harbor Trail” (Oct. 15, 20,18).
  • This collage OpEd asks why Rush Street would deny public access to the riverfront to the people of  Schenectady, while doing so much for the public at its Philadelphia and Pittsburgh casinos, spending millions to improve and enlarge already impressive riverbank access.

The answer, from my perspective, is that the Mayor and Metroplex, and City Council, gave in to every demand of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group, and failed to follow industry practice (and common sense) by demanding extra payments and protections for Schenectady and its citizens, when they approved the casino license Application and major zoning code changes. Despite all that Rush Street gives and offers to other host cities, they let the Casino Gang treat Schenectady like a Second-rate City. (See our posting, “Rush Streets giveaways

    • Here’s a telling (and ironic) bit of the McCarthy Administration’s developer-oriented urban planning: When I complained at a public meeting in 2015 that the amendments were taking away guaranteed public access to the riverfront, the then-Director of the Planning Office replied to me and the public that “they will have access to the retail” at the Harbor.

2] After supporting removal of the public access guarantee to the waterfront, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen of Metroplex came up with the misleading argument that having a Large Vessel Dock would assure “total public access to the riverfront.” [2018 rendering below] Based on that bogus, and easily rebutted claim, City Hall and Metroplex originally proposed such a project for Schenectady DRI.  However, other State funding has been secured for the project outside of DRI, meaning that $2 million of public funds from another source will be used to build a 680-foot long, 12-ft. wide, large vessel dock (with no railing, of course) along Mohawk Harbor. It will surely benefit Mohawk Harbor and owners of large vessel boats. For a partial list of the reasons why it is unlikely that a significant portion of the public will be able to enjoy the safe and secure use of such a dock, see our post “The large vessel dock at Mohawk Harbor” (July 24, 2018).

3] While seeking Schenectady DRI and other subsidies for a large entertainment center, Rush Street Gaming’s Pittsburgh Casino announced last October, that for the tenth straight year, it was contributing $7.5 million (in two $3.525 million donations each year) for Pittsburgh’s existing, grand sports and entertainment center, PPG Paints Arena, to help cover its original construction costs. The donations will continue for 25 more years. (Note: In case you wonder, Rush Street pays higher gaming tax rates on slots and table games in Pennsylvania than it does in New York on its Schenectady Casino revenues.) When it comes to making gifts and donations, Rush Street Gaming treats Schenectady like the proverbial redheaded stepchild. When, however, it comes to asking for and accepting money, Schenectady’s generous Mayor and Metroplex Chair seem to be Rush Street’s Daddy Warbucks.

 

Capital Region AQUATIC CENTER  . .

If some of Mohawk Harbor’s remaining green-space is to be sacrificed, it should be for a project that offers unique services to the people of our community and the Capital Region, as well as attracting and serving visitors. If it also provides water-related activities, that would be a plus. Using those criteria, the DRI proposal at Mohawk Harbor that suits the public interest far better than a Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Complex is the CAPITAL REGION AQUATIC CENTER, even though it will not be located at the core of our downtown. [see page 66 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation]  Also see, “Aquatic center proposed on Schenectady waterfront gains $250K grant” (Daily Gazette, John Cropley, March 3, 2020). The Gazette article reports that:

The Capital Region Aquatic Center’s . . . would feature four pools for training, competition and diverse swim programs such as learn-to-swim, exercise and rehabilitation.

Plans also include spectator seating, classroom areas, meeting rooms, aquatic-focused exercise and weight room, studio/multi-purpose area, pro shop, concessions area and locker rooms.. .

In another boost, the Wright Family Foundation of Schenectady announced a $3 million grant in October.

Read about the Aquatic Center’s history and mission, here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy posting. Your (civil) comments are welcome. If you agree, please let the DRI Local Planning Committee, the Mayor and City Council, and the media, know. I plan to add updates and follow-up thoughts to this post.

 . . share this post with this short URL: IMG_1801 https://tinyurl.com/RealDowntown . . 

. . Many thanks to Google Maps for assisting in making this posting . .

update: Sunday, March 8, 2020: See the Gazette article by Pete DiMola, “As priority projects come into focus, Schenectady DRI panelists could have conflicts of interest“. There’s a lot to consider in the piece. This excerpt gives a taste of the complexities:

But roughly a quarter of the 16-member panel tapped with making the final decisions represent organizations who are not only jostling for funding, but are also actively pitching projects themselves.

They include the city, Proctors, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, Rivers Casino & Resort and Schenectady Country Metroplex Development Authority.

Driving pedestrian traffic between downtown and Mohawk Harbor is the centerpiece of the effort.

David Buicko, CEO and president of the Galesi Group, which developed Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino & Resort, is co-chair of the panel.

Also, see Saturday’s Guest Column by former Union College President, and Mayoral candidate, Roger H. Hull, “Don’t emulate Washington on ethics transparency,” which also raises conflict of issues statements, especially re the leaders of Galesi Group and Proctors being on the Local Planning Committee. Dr. Hull ends the column with these observations:

HullOpEd7Mar2020Yet, even if they recuse themselves, the process would be tainted, since it would be easy to game the system. It would be best for them to resign, if their organizations are possible recipients of the grant.

A lack of transparency and conflicts of interest are troubling issues—or at least they should be. In the past, they were, but not today.

In the age of Trump, those issues are, seemingly, of no concern to most people.

In Schenectady, ethics and legal norms should be retained.

We would all benefit, and we might even serve as a much-needed model for Washington.

DRIPlanningCmteBLATANT CONFLICTS. Dave Buicko is CEO of the Galesi Group, which developed and owns Mohawk Harbor, and was the main spokesperson pushing the Casino application forward in 2014 and thereafter related Zoning changes and site plans, etc. As stressed above, the primary focus of DRI Schenectady is “increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor“. Nonetheless, Mr. Buicko was made co-Chair of the DRI Planning Committee. And, Mayor McCarthy (who is seeking funding on behalf of the City), is the other co-chair. Mr McCarthy told the Gazette that he wants the Committee’s recommendations for projects that will receive grants to be bundled into a single vote. Doing that, of course, will mean that the final vote will allow Committee members with conflicts of interest, even if they have previously recused themselves on particular proposals, to vote for them as part of a “bundle” of projects.

If ever there were a situation ripe for “horse trading”, it is DRI Schenectady. Too many committee members (click on above image) are directly involved with proposals, and too many others are beholden to, or seeking favors from, the City, Metroplex, Rivers Casino, the Galesi Group and Proctors, to believe that an objective assessment of the public interest will drive the outcome. 

How else but from the now-habitual McCarthy-Metroplex “done deal” perspective, with McCarthy and Gallen “snowmen” selected for panels, can the public understand how the primary goal of DRI Schenectady could be driving customers away from our core downtown to Mohawk Harbor, a private development situated over a mile from the Real Downtown Schenectady?

  • honestThere are far too many examples of misleading, half-true, or simply erroneous  claims surrounding Mohawk Harbor and the Casino for me to supply them in this posting. Browsing this weblog will give the reader a good taste (well, actually, a bad taste for our City Hall). But, here are three quick but relevant examples:  (1) A few years ago, the initial online brochure for Mohawk Harbor stated that it was located “in the heart of downtown Schenectady.” (2) At one time it was claimed that Rivers Casino is located “across the street” from the new Train Station. And, (3) Dave Buicko (rather than the Planning Office staff) was allowed to present the large packet of amendments to the City’s Waterfront District zoning Code in 2015. The Galesi Group CEO told the Planning Commission and City Council that the amendments were mainly minor and technical, despite among other things, removing guaranteed public access to the waterfront, permitting 80-foot rather than 7-foot signs, allowing 19,000 rather than 250 square feet of signage, and completely removing the Casino from the Signage portion requirements of the City’s Zoning Code. (See our descrption of the Planning Commission Special Meeting that approved the Amendments: “Schenectady’s Waterfront Zoning: A rubber stamp in a company town?” (Jan. 29, 2015). With “alternate facts” like these coming from City Hall and its favorite “partners”, who needs actual facts when doling out $10 million taxpayer dollars?

follow-up (March 21, 2020): Thank you, Daily Gazette for publishing my Letter to the Editor today, “Invest state funds in our ‘real’ downtown” (at D2):

DRI-RealDowntown

we need more Safe Gambling Education

pgam-ribbon-e1519831037164 It is March again, and March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. [E.g., see materials provided this week by the New York Council on Problem Gambling.] Once again, however, the gambling industry and its regulators in New York State, along with well-intended private-sector public interest advocates (who count on the State for funding), are focusing on finding people who already show the signs of having a problem gambling problem, and then suggesting ways for them to get help. Such activity is a good thing, of course, but we also need a strong educational campaign to teach the public Safer, Low-risk Gambling Habits that will help many people avoid needing intervention and treatment.

As many already-existing resources demonstrate, such problem gambling prevention education does not have to be painful or complicated to arm individuals with common sense but effective knowledge that keeps gambling a fun, recreational activity. We have listed many examples of such resources in our problem gambling posts, such as the information and links compiled last March. The list immediately below of low-risk and high-risk gambling behaviors from the Problem Gambling Canada website is a good example.

Low Risk and Harmful Gambling

Not all gambling is a problem. Gambling may be low risk, or it may be harmful.

Low-risk gambling means you:

      • Limit how much time and money you spend gambling
      • Accept your losses, and don’t try to win them back
      • Enjoy winning, but know it happened by chance
      • Balance gambling with other fun activities
      • Don’t gamble to earn money or pay debts
      • Don’t gamble when your judgment is impaired by alcohol or other drugs
      • Never borrow money or use personal investments or family savings to gamble
      • Don’t gamble to escape from your problems or feelings
      • Don’t hurt your job, health, finances, reputation or family through your gambling

Harmful gambling means you have started to:

      • Lie about your gambling or keep it a secret
      • Lose track of time and play for longer than you meant to
      • Feel depressed or angry after gambling
      • Spend more money than you planned, or more than you can afford
      • Ignore work and family responsibilities because of gambling
      • Borrow money or use household money to gamble
      • “Chase your losses” to try to win back your money
      • Believe that gambling will pay off in the end
      • See gambling as the most important thing in your life
      • Use gambling to cope with your problems or to avoid things
      • Have conflicts with family and friends over gambling
      • Ignore your physical and emotional health because of gambling.

I encourage readers to check out our fuller treatment last March of Problem Gambling. That posting explains the obvious fact that casinos, their regulators, and our State and local government entities receiving gambling revenue taxes, have little incentive to significantly reduce the amount of gambling done in New York State. The issues raised there, and the practices of Rivers Casino relevant to problem gambling awareness, have not changed since last year. They may, however, be getting worse, due to the continued significant growth of slots gambling, the most addictive form of casino gambling, at Rivers Schenectady.

  • hazardsignContinued “Slotsification”: Slots/ETG gross gaming revenue increased by $13.6 million in 2019 over 2018, which is 12.9%, while Table Game wagering went down 4.5%, and Poker table play down 6% in 2019. [See the Weekly Revenue Reports from Rivers Casino, and its Monthly Reports.]

To my knowledge, unlike the trumpeting of their 2017 figures, Rivers Casino has not released to the media or public the number (or its estimate) of patrons at the Casino in 2018 and 2019. Our fear is that patronage/visitation has not been broadcast because it has in fact been flat or declining, despite the growth in Gross Gaming Revenue. That could mean that slots GGR is increasing due to long or frequent repeat visits by slots patrons showing the signs, or in the throes, of gambling addiction.

The Schenectady Gazette published an article this week describing an event at Rivers Casino on March 2 announcing problem gambling awareness month. “Rivers Casino hosts state kickoff of problem gambling awareness month” (by John Cropley, March 3, 2020). Rather than a point by point reaction to quotes and information in the article, I am reprinting my comments to that article left at the Gazette webpage:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/RiversCasinoNY/posts/?ref=page_internal

David Giacalone Comment

Rivers Casino likes to tell the press and the gaming industry and regulators how hard it works to identify problem gamblers. But, neither Rivers nor our government leaders help in any significant way to educate the public on how to avoid becoming a problem gambler. We need to help create a healthy, informed attitude toward casino gambling, and educate the public on how to be a savvy, low-risk gambler. Going to the casino should be a form of low-risk, casual entertainment and recreation, rather than a strike-it-rich high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.

At its Facebook page, Rivers Casino focuses on opportunities to win BIG. It never even mentioned Problem Gambling during all of last March on Facebook, and has no mention of it yet this year. [and no mention as of March 7, 2020]

Since its first year of operation, Table Games and Poker revenue have declined each year, while Slots revenue has increased significantly. Slots revenue went up 12.9% in 2019. That is not a surprise, as Slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling.

To read about Schenectady’s Slots Gambling Problem, see how Rivers’ feeble efforts compare to those at MGM Resorts, and learn how to gamble safely (and simply go to a casino to have fun), see https://tinyurl.com/SlotsProblem .

  • Furthermore, according to the numbers in the Rivers Casino Weekly GGR Report to the NYS Gaming Commission, Schenectady’s Casino just had its biggest SLOT/ETG week ever: Its slots take for the last week of February 2020 was $2,937,288. The prior week was its third biggest slots week, after three years operating at Mohawk Harbor.

Since the Casino and local Government are not giving us Low-Risk Gambling information, it is up to private citizens and the private sector (health, religious, civic groups focusing on both the young and the elderly, etc.) to step up an act urgently

betting on sports betting?

RiversSportsbookOpen 

We’ve been quiet here at Snowmen At The Gates about sports betting since our post in May 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for all states to authorize sports betting. A couple weeks ago, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor became the first facility in the State of New York to offer legalized sports betting at its Rivers Sportsbook lounge. [see Times Union coverage, and the Gazette article, July 16, 2019]

upstatenymap2019Having succeeded in keeping all but full-fledged casinos out of the sports betting game in Upstate New York for now, Rivers Casino is secure in the knowledge that its nearest competitors will be Resorts World International Catskills (123 miles away); del Lago Casino (156 miles away); and Tribal casino Turning Stone, in Verona, which is 97 miles away (see: “Turning Stone sports betting opens” (Syracuse.com, August 1, 2019, by Ben Coin).  

  • As a racino, Saratoga is not permitted to offer sports betting under the current NYS law.
  • What about Tribal Casinos, such as Turning Stone? Tribal Casinos are not included in the new sports wagering rules, but “tribal casinos in New York have legal reciprocity to offer any gambling games allowed at the state’s commercial casinos”. See LegalSportsReport] Earlier this year, the Oneida Nation announced that it is working on receiving the needed approval by the National Indian Gaming Commission for a partnership with Caesars Entertainment to offer sports betting at its three NYS casinos. And, Follow-up: Sports Betting opened at Turning Stone Casino on August 1, 2019. See NYCentral, July 31, 2019..

OpeningDayTUpic

Being slow learners, or good actors, our local pols have been brimming with optimism about all the new business and revenue, and tourism, sports betting will bring for Schenectady (City and County) and the State. [photo detail to the left by Paul Buckowski, Albany Times UnionNaturally, beyond the usual hyperbole and uncertainty of any wagering projection, no one has mentioned what will happen if existing Rivers customers substitute Sports Wagering (taxed at 10%) for their Slots betting (taxed at 45%), the only form of casino betting at Rivers that has been growing since its first year of operation; or, if they simply spend time at the Sports Lounge that would have been spent at the Tables.

Rivers Casino has apparently spent a million dollars preparing its 5000 square foot Sports Wagering Lounge. We now have figures for the first two weeks of Sports Wagering at Rivers Casino, as shown in this screen shot compilation, from the Rivers Casino weekly reports to the NYS Gaming Commission [click on the image for a larger version]:

Rivers-Sports-2wks

I have no idea whether the total of Sports Wagering for the first two weeks, $260,334, should be considered large or small; I do not think Rivers/Rush Street gave any public projections. But I will note that the two weeks included two very successful Saturday evening Harbor Jam concerts at Rivers Casino and the Mohawk Harbor Marina, creating the potential for thousands of the curious to check out the Sports Wagering Lounge.

Just looking at the numbers, I do see that:

  • plungegraphsmSports Betting Week 1: $168,743.
  • SB Week 2: $91,591
  • Week 2’s Sports Wagering total was down $77,152, which is 45.7% lower than Week 1
  • Slots Revenue during SBWeek 2 was down $4,918 from the week ending 7/14/2019, the week prior to the launch of Sports Wagering at Rivers.
  • Table Game revenue during SBWeek 2 was down $401,697 — that is down 45% — from the week ending 7/14/2019, the week prior to the launch of Sports Wagering at Rivers. Table Game revenue had also gone down the first week of Sports Wagering at Rivers Casino.
  • $2,898,960, Total Gaming Revenue at Rivers Casino for SBWeek 2 (the week ending July 18, 2019) was the second worse figure in over five months at Rivers Casino.

lifepreserverOf course, two weeks may not tell us much. But, Rivers Casino certainly got a lot of publicity for the opening of Sports Wagering in New York State. Fans of legal sports betting might have been expected to rush over to Mohawk Harbor. So far, totals at Rivers Casino suggest less overall revenue and therefore lower tax receipts than prior to the New Age of Sports Betting. If your tummy is easily upset, I’d suggest some dramamine to deal with the Spin Tsunami that may be coming. On the other hand, when it comes to less-than-rosy news about Rivers Casino, we mostly get deafening Silence from Rush Street Gaming, Rush Street Schenectady, and their handmaidens at City Hall, Metroplex, and the County and State Legislatures. Their unwitting public relations departments at our local media tend to run out of words (and follow-up questions), too, when casino news is not good.

plungegraphsmYupdate (Aug. 9, 2019): According to the Rivers Casino revenue report for the week ending 08/04/19, Sports Wagering GGR for the 3rd week at Rivers Sportsbook was $25,386. That’s two-thirds less than its dismal 2nd Week, and a mere 15% of the Week 1 sports wagering take. Total GGR at Rivers Schenectady was up 13% last week over the prior week, with Table Game revenue up 43% and Slots revenue up about 7%.

  • For another perspective, see “Rovell: Sports Betting Launched in New York and No One Cared” (Darren, Rovell, TheActionNetwork, Jul 19, 2019). “Put all the shine you want on it. Have comfortable plush chairs and good lines, without mobile, and with hard to get to retail sportsbooks, it won’t make an impact.”

Our elected leaders at Schenectady City Hall, who love to call the Casino their Partner, were all too thrilled to support Sports Betting on the Mohawk. Not one word was said by the Democratic majority or the Mayor’s Office about the not insignificant chance that overall tax receipts could decline, even if Rivers Casino got more profitable. I, for one, have no interest in throwing the ones seeking re-election at this time a life preserver. The least they could do is demand that the projection numbers be crunched to see how the net receipts are likely to work out for the City and County. And, start thinking of the people of Schenectady as their partners, not the Mohawk Harbor Gang.

  • Also, to bring up a pet peeve of mine, Mr. Kosiur or Mayor McCarthy should insist that Rivers Casino tell us their overall Visitor numbers for 2018, which they have not yet done, despite being halfway through 2019. Around Schenectady, No News is never good news. It is more likely to be a cover-up of bad news.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SchdySportsBets

RiversDesPlainesPylon follow-up FYI (August 4, 2019): Capital Region media never mentioned it, but in March 2019, Rush Street Gaming sold 61% of its ownership of the Des Plaines (Ill.) Rivers Casino, the largest casino in Illinois, to Churchill Downs. That surely got Rush Street a powerful influx of cash, despite all its crybaby antics at the NYS Legislature seeking tax breaks. The folk at Rivers Casino Des Plaines have announced a very large plan to get into sports betting big time. See “Rivers Casino owner is betting big with plans to expand Des Plaines casino, add sports wagering and go after a new casino license” (Chicago Tribune, August 2, 2019, by Robert Channick)

not again, Mr. Steck!

AssPhilSteck The Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor is at it again. Phil Steck (ostensibly, D-Colonie) is trying to sneak in a last-minute, end of Session treat for his No. 1 Constituent, Rivers Casino. The Editorial board at the Schenectady Gazette rightly wants to know:

[W]hy — as state lawmakers scramble to pass bills during the final days of the 2019 legislative session — is anyone in Albany focused on providing tax breaks and cost savings for casinos?

[See “Editorial: Put taxpayers, horse industry above casinos: Rivers casino is making plenty of money. It doesn’t need more breaks” (Daily Gazette, June 19, 2019); also, see “Steck proposes casino funding adjustment” (by Pete DeMola, Gazette, June 18, 2019); Sara Foss’ Gazette column, “Casino proposal a bad idea” (June 20, 2019).]

As the Editorial explains:

Steck-McCarthyAtRiversOne bill (A8400/S6562) sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Steck would allow full-service casinos like Rivers in Schenectady to pay half what they currently pay to support the state’s horse-racing industry.

Racinos like Saratoga Casino Hotel, which offer both video gaming and harness racing, would pay the other half

Furthermore, the Gazette points out:

That 100 percent payment was put into the agreement because the new casinos were expected to draw significant business away from the existing racinos, and by extension take money out of the horse-racing industry. And they have.

To further punish the racino by forcing it to absorb half the horse-racing obligations, in addition to the revenue losses to the casino, adds insult to injury.

SteckEyesShut

Mr. Steck – Eyes Shut [TU photo]

 This tax-break ploy at the expense of racinos such as the one in Saratoga is especially cynical at a time when Rivers Casino has consistently increasing slots revenue and is about to be the only casino in the state offering both sports betting and live horse racing (at track odds, too). update (June 21, 2019): By the way, Mr. Steck made this proposal to help poor little Rivers Casino at a time when the Schenectady Casino was having its second-best week for Gross Gaming Revenue since its rush of opening hoopla in March of 2017. Its GGR for the week ending 06/16/2019 was $3,535,273.

  • Steck and Rivers Casino made the same lame arguments just three months ago, trying to reduce the gaming tax Rivers would have to pay on slots revenue. For our complete reply, see: “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid” (March 29, 2019). Their excuses include the whiny refrain that MGM Springfield is unfair competition, because of its lower slots tax rate. They keep forgetting that:
    • MGMSpringfield-render(1)  MGM Springfield pays the City of Springfield $25 million a year over its State gaming tax obligations under a Host City Agreement, whereas our Mayor never asked for such an agreement and we get nothing extra;
    • (2) Rivers Casino has had over a 10% increase in gaming revenue since MGM Springfield opened last year; and
    • (3) MGM Springfield actually looks and feels like a destination casino, which surely gives it a competitive edge with customers willing to travel. Thanks to our Mayor and Planning Commission (and Metroplex) refusing-fearing to demand better, Rush Street Gaming and Galeshi Group have given us a homely, mediocre regional casino, which will not attract the tourists we had hoped for.

slots still the only bright spot for Rivers Casino gambling

 Slots play continues to be the only form of casino gambling that is increasing at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino since its first year of operation. Table game and Poker Table play are down. According to the Rivers Casino Monthly Reports submitted to the NYS Gaming Commission,

for the first four months of 2019:

  • Total Gross Gambling Revenue [GGR] was $53,686,129, up $2,925,831 from the first four months of 2018
  • SLOTS/ETG play was $37,627,968, up $3,686,342 from first four months of 2018
 As with the 2nd Full Year of Rivers Casino revenue, the increase in Slots gambling from January through April 2019 was greater than the total increase in GGR at the Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Members of the community who worry about Problem Gambling and its effects on the gambler, and his or her family, friends, job, and on the community, are concerned, because Slots is the most addictive form of casino gambling.
.
AddictionByDesign-Schüll-Cover
Is this “slotsification on the Mohawk”, simultaneous with a reduction at the same location of table game and poker play, evidence of growing slots addiction in the mostly-local customer base of Rivers Casino? Perhaps the survey that the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services plans to start in January 2020, may give some answers.  See “Does New York have a gambling problem? Survey hopes to find out” (The Buffalo News, by Tom Precious, May 16, 2019) According to the Buffalo News:
.
Bids for the gambling survey are due back to the agency on June 5. The group or firm selected will conduct surveys, in English and Spanish, of 5,000 adults broken down into specific regions of the state. Interviews will be conducted over five months beginning in January and a draft report on the findings is due in August 2020.
.
As we have argued here often, proximity to casinos increases the prevalence of problem gambling, and we need to focus far more resources at preventing problem gambling, not merely treating it once its damage is apparent. See our post, “Slots and problem gambling prevention” (March 27, 2019) for discussion and suggestions.
.
  • PeopleCounter Meanwhile, it appears that Rivers Casino has not yet publicly reported the number of its Visitors in 2018. Last year, they reported the prior year’s Visitation numbers in the first week of February. Rush Street is always happy to broadcast good news. If there were fewer Visitors at Rivers Casino in 2018, slots players with problem gambling issues may indeed be gambling more.

a bargeful of yellow bollards on the Mohawk

. . but, first, a Mother’s Day Bouquet for Mama G. :

2 of 180

 A Conversation We Might Have Over-Heard at Mohawk Harbor on Mother’s Day:

Q: “What are all those big yellow things called, Son?”  A: “Bollards, Mom.”

Q: “Why are there so many and why are they so tall?” A: “Only God, Ray Gillen, and maybe Mayor McCarthy, know”.

Q: “Weren’t they supposed to make Mohawk Harbor and the Casino a classy, attractive destination?” A: “That’s what they promised.”

Q: “Then, how the heck did all those yellow bollards get here?”

“They” — the Developer Galesi Group, Casino Owner Rush Street Gaming, the Planning Commission, Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Hall in general, Ray Gillen and Metroplex, and County government — could have and should have made this crucial project more attractive, to help bring in tourists and repeat business, and for the sake of residents who deserve a beautiful harbor district. Instead, there are, by my recent count, at least 180 bright yellow bollards (that is,15 dozen) surrounding Rivers Casino and detracting from its attractiveness.

The bollards are, in addition, taller than the average bollard (which is 3.5 ft., and not 4′, 5′ and 6′, as at Mohawk Harbor), increasing their visual impact.[see photo above] In the opinion of many folks in Schenectady, parking areas and pedestrian walkways should not be this pedestrian.

  • The Sentries assigned to protect Schenectady from harmful outsiders on the day of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre instead went off to a Mill Lane pub for some brew, leaving behind snowmen and open stockade gates to greet French and Indian marauders from Canada. Sadly, it seems, weaponless and voiceless Snowmen have been appointed or hired to oversee design and implementation of Schenectady’s most important development of this Century. They’ve permitted a bumper crop of bright yellow bollards to sprout along Mohawk Harbor. For my taste, if they had spawned at least a few snowman-shaped bollards, we would have been better off.

You can see the results of the City’s planning and oversight omissions for yourself with a quick look at the next two collages; one shows bollards at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on the west side of the facility [L], and the other shows bollards along the east end and rear of the Casino complex [R].

 

 

 

 

. . click on either collage, or any image in this posting, for a larger version . 

What Is a Bollard and What Do They DO?

 A bollard is a sturdy, short, vertical post. The term originally referred to a post on a ship, wharf or dock used principally for mooring boats, but is now also used to refer to posts installed to control road traffic and posts designed to provide security and prevent ramming attacks, as well as provide a theme or sense of place. [see Wikipedia; Reliance Foundry; TrafficGuard.]

Bollards are available in many different sizes and styles, including removable or fixed versions, designed to evoke virtually any era or taste. The type chosen depends on the purpose of the bollard, and the location. For example, Reliance Foundry displays illustrations, specs, and prices for 143 bollard models at its website, including bollard covers in many styles and choice of materials. And, see: its Pinterest Creative Bollards display. Bollards can be serious or stately, artsy or whimsical. The style or mood can even be mixed on the same site or project.

 Bollards are not, therefore, merely practical, and definitely do not have to detract from a landscape or streetscape. Reliance Foundry notes that “Bollards enhance the visual quality of buildings and landscapes while providing visual and physical barriers for safer, more controlled environments.” And, relevant to our discussion of Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino:

 When used to complement new or existing architecture, bollards can create or reinforce thematic visual cues and enhance a sense of place within a neighborhood or community—and for approaching visitors. [click the collage at the head of this blurb to see samples of Reliance Foundry bollards] 

Despite the hundreds of bollard styles to choose from, and their coincidental nautical history, tall bollards with bright yellow covers are so ubiquitous on the lawns, parking areas, and walkways of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, that they are the most prominent architectural feature defining the otherwise uninspiring, and unnamable external design of the Casino complex.

Thus, whether you are . . .

. . entering the Rivers Casino parking lot from the west on Front Street:

. . coming from the east on Harbor Way:

. . . visiting next-door at STS Steel:

. . driving over the Mohawk from Glenville on Freeman’s Bridge:

 . . .

. . aboard your yacht on the Mohawk River:

 . . .

. . entering the ALCO Trail on foot from the west:

. . or, even checking out the ALCO Trail signage from your bike:

your first and subsequent views of the site at Rivers Casino are highly likely to be populated by an inert army of tall, bright yellow bollards.

WE DESERVE(D) BETTER

In the posting “Why does Rush Street give Schenectady its scraps” (June 19, 2015), we pointed to the image created by the Applicants before the Location Board, when they sought a gaming license from New York State, and noted our disappointment in the eventual design of Rivers Casino:

A flashy digital brochure submitted to the New York State Gaming Commission, “The Companies of Neil Bluhm,” touts his having “developed and acquired over $50 billion in world class destinations,” his “Establishing international beacons to successfully attract the tourism market,” and “placing an emphasis on superior design” for his casinos. Unfortunately, instead of an “international beacon” like Fallsview Casino in Ontario, Canada, we get a design that reminds us Neil Bluhm “pioneered . . . the creation of urban shopping centers.”

Why did we get such a disappointing, second-rate design? I got no reply when I emailed the Schenectady Planning Office and City Engineer, on April 15, 2019 and asked, regarding the yellow bollards:

  1. Did the Applicant designate the color, style and size for its bollards for its Site Plan review? 
  2. Did the Commission either approve or direct such bright yellow bollards?
  3. Did Staff review this choice and okay it?

That leaves me to speculate on my own. In our June 15, 2017 “scraps” posting, we stated:

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.

In their Casino License Application, Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group were required to submit detailed renderings and sketches of the proposed Casino project. For example, the July 2014 Application included an overview sketch with the detail at the right of their west parking lot, the largest ground-level parking area.  [full sketch] There are well over 100 trees in the west parking lot in the submitted sketch. That presentation shows that the Applicants/Developer/Owners knew what a parking lot meant to attract and keep tourists and other customers should look like. If nothing else, the image should also have reminded the Planning Commission and planning staff what their goal should be regarding the landscaping and appearance of this prime location. Unfortunately, the public and perhaps also the Planning Commission never again saw such detailed proposals for the casino compound.

  • from 2nd Casino Design

    from 2nd Casino Design

    The limited 2nd design images submitted for public review of the Casino compound did not include the full parking lot, but still seemed to have quite a few trees. [See the image to the left.] The third design submitted to the public only revealed a tiny part of the front and back of the Casino, giving no parking lot views. Of course, nothing prevented, and their duty demanded, that the Planning Commission require more detail and allow more public comment; more important, their duty demanded the construction of far more attractive parking lots, especially given how much of the total footprint of the Casino Compound and Mohawk Harbor they would consume.

The the next four images below show the actual west parking lot, with its mere handful of trees along the rows. Click on a photo for a larger version.

IMG_9158 . . IMG_9150-001

. . photos taken, Nov. 4, 2018 [above] and May 4, 2019 [below] . . 

. .

You have to wonder: “What happened to all those trees?” Indeed, the Minutes of the July 22, 2015 Commission Meeting, which included the Casino Site Plan Review, have Commission Member (now Chair) Mary Moore Wallinger noting (at 5):

[T]hat she very much appreciates the detailed planting plan and that she feels that the applicants listened to the feedback from the Commission regarding the landscaping and pedestrian walkways and took it into account when revising the design.

What could Ms. Wallinger, a leading Schenectady landscape architect and designer of major municipal projects in the City and County, have meant, if the result is a swarm of yellow bollards that would seem to be the antithesis of good landscaping and site planning at an “international tourist destination” and unique, new, upscale neighborhood? The beauty and shade added by robust and numerous trees in a parking lot are, of course, much appreciated by urban designers, and by passersby, drivers, and passengers coming from near and far.

  • BTW: I recall being in the Commission hearing room when, at one point in the process, Ms. Wallinger spent a lot of time worrying with the applicant over the size of the parking lot tree beds. Did she have any follow-up with the Planning Office staff on this issue?

Throughout the Casino design and site plan approval process, this website and local media complained that the public and the Planning Commission were receiving far fewer and far less specific details about how the casino site would look as proposed by the developers than we would expect in even the most insignificant project. We were shown only incomplete “peeks” at segments of the proposed plans, often with sketches and not complete renderings, and the Commission never demanded more, despite the importance of this project and its clear authority to require more. Instead, phony deadline pressure arguments from the Applicants were accepted without complaint, and last-minute incomplete submissions were accepted. For example, see the limited-view renderings submitted for the rear (river-side) of the Casino and its Hotel on the Right for the 2nd Rivers Casino Design, and immediately below for the 3rd design.

 . . .  

By the way, despite their prominence on the actual constructed site, there are no yellow bollards in sight in either version of the rear of the Casino complex.

How could this happen at a project hailed so often as Schenectady’s premiere new, upscale location, and hope for its future? The City’s Planning Commission purportedly gave the Casino and Mohawk Harbor a full Site Plan Review (see our disappointed coverage). Site Plan review is not merely meant to make sure that all zoning laws have been followed. As we explained during the Site Plan process for the Casino complex in July 2015:

“[T]he commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.” [Gazette article citing Corporation Council Carl Falotico, Feb. 3, 2015.]

Also, see the section “What a site plan accomplishes” in the “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW”, by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, at 19.

    • By the way, at the end of the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, chair Sharron Coppola announced it would be her last meeting as chair, and that she would be resigning her position as Planning Commissioner. I certainly wish Ms. Coppola had written a Memoir of her time at the Commission, including the entire Harbor District zoning and Casino site planning experience.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS?

NotYellow-OrthoNY

at OrthoNY Liberty Street

Some of the most imaginative people I know have not been able to figure out or conjure up a justification for the excessive and near-exclusive use of bright yellow bollards at Rivers Casino Schenectady. In addition, in none of my readings have I found any indication that bollards need to be bright yellow in order to effectively serve their functions. My inquiry to City Engineer Chris Wallin about requirements that bollards be yellow in certain situations never got a reply. (Of course, in a location where one might not expect to find the protected item, a bright color to signal its existence does make sense, but that issue does not seem to warrant the ubiquitous choice of bright yellow at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.)

A Schenectady Tradition? No, it isn’t, despite their use to protect utility cabinets at recent projects downtown. City Hall, County, civic and business leaders are surely aware that there are other kinds of affordable and more attractive bollards, or similar security measures or screens available. A short outing around Downtown Schenectady should suffice to prove that proposition; here’s the result of my recent bollard tour:

at S. Church & State St. . .

Also, the first tenant at Mohawk Harbor, Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, did a nice job looking like a tasteful place to stay, without using even one yellow bollard to protect the building and utility units. Here are a couple of sample views of the Hotel; for more, click on the Collage Thumbnail to the head of this paragraph.

 . .

Unfortunately, Marriott’s example did not rub off across its driveway at Galesi’s Harborway Drive office-retail buildings.

A Rush Street Gaming Branding Tool or Trademark? And, No, bright yellow bollards are not a design theme uniting all Rush Street Gaming properties. The collage below (on L) has images compiled from an extensive on-line Google Street Map tour of the exterior of Rivers Casino at DesPlaines, Illinois, which has a design similar in many ways to Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, but without yellow bollards. Similarly, the collage on the Right shows exterior scenes from Rush Street’s Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia, where yellow bollards are also absent and do not appear to be a design element for exterior spaces. Similarly, Google Images we located of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh contain no yellow bollards.

SugarHouse-NoYellowBollards

Furthermore, Rush Street Gaming and their development partner Galesi Group used not-yellow bollards and non-bollard alternative devices in strategic spots at and near Rivers Casino. Click on this Collage:

. .

A few years ago, we documented at this website how much better Rush Street Gaming has treated the cities that host its other casinos or potential sites than how it treats Schenectady [see, e.g., Rush Street Giveaways, and Money on the Table]. So, it is not surprising that we have not been able to find similar aggregations of bright yellow (or even similarly unsubtle or unsightly) bollards at other Rush Street casinos.

at Waterfront Condominiums, Mohawk Harbor

Finally, Is Bright Yellow a Galesi Group Trademark or Branding Tool? Despite a minor outbreak of similar bollards at the Galesi-built and owned Price Chopper/Golub headquarters (example), there does not seem to be any internal imperative for yellow bollards within the Galesi Group.  Indeed, we see a far more tasteful/tolerable (and less conspicuous) set of bollards at the eastern end of Mohawk Harbor, performing protection service for utility cabinets and similar objects at Galesi’s high-end Waterfront Condominiums [asking price, $500,000 to $700,000]. There’s not a yellow bollard in sight on site.

  

Like the westside of Mohawk Harbor, the eastside (between Harborside Drive and Erie Boulevard), sits on the banks of the Mohawk River, has a bike-pedestrian path running through it, and features ALCO Heritage signage sponsored by Schenectady County.  Both ends of Mohawk Harbor sit within the City of Schenectady, with site plans reviewed by its Planning Commission. And, both ends were proudly godfathered/mid-wived by Ray Gillen of Metroplex. Why such a visually-different result?

. . Mohawk Harbor riverbank bollards protecting utility boxes: [above] at Rivers Casino; [below] at Waterfront Condominiums . .

  • Discount Bollards? Did a literal bargeful of yellow bollards or bollard covers show up at Mohawk Harbor or another Schenectady County location with great price breaks for buying them in bulk? What amount of savings could compensate for their lack of aesthetic virtue?
  • Peoples’ Choice? I know that taste can be very subjective, and that some “leaders” want to force constituents out of their confined preferences, but I believe that the great majority of Schenectady area residents, if asked the question directly with photos, would strongly prefer non-yellow bollards.

As with the failure of our Mayor to demand financial, employment, purchasing benefits, etc., in a host community agreement, it appears that our City Hall and its appointed Civil Snowmen neither demanded attractive landscaping and protective installations around the Casino, nor required that the developers fulfill any specific promise they may have made in the site plan process.

  • The collage to the Right gives a stark example of Galesi Group promises in a site plan meeting that were apparently later ignored by the developer and by any enforcement officials reviewing the execution of a Mohawk Harbor project. According to June 17, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting Minutes, during review of the Site Plan for what would become the 220 Harborside Drive office and retail building, project engineer Dan Hershberg:
    .
    [E]xplained that because there is underground parking beneath the parking lot, landscaping option are more limited in this space.He stated that large planters are proposed for the islands in the parking lot, and that they will be cast in concrete on site and will be quite substantial in size. He added that they are proposing to add trees to the site wherever possible, but there are some spots where easements are located which will be planted with more seasonal, less permanent options. [emphasis added]
    .

    There are, as you can see in the collage above, no islands, no planters, and no trees. Who in our City government is responsible to follow-up on such matters?

Why is this Bargeful of Bollards Story Important? It is a prime, very visible example of The Snowman Effect: The inadequate protection of the public interest in Schenectady, due to the appointment and retention at City Hall by Mayor Gary McCarthy of subservient, ineffectual or disinterested public servants (with dismissal of those who do not cooperate), resulting in both rushed, superficial review of submissions from favored applicants, and lax follow-up and enforcement of City Code provisions and applicant promises. [as symbolically depicted here] It has meant, in the Casino Design and Yellow Bollards context, suffering a less attractive and less successful Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and in other contexts, such as the ALCO Bike-Pedestrian pathway, a less safe Mohawk Harbor for those who visit and use the facilities (see this and that).

For more on the Snowman Effect, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on the Planning Commission“. For an explanation of the Snowmen Metaphor, see our posting “have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?”; for examples, some of which are more subtle than others, check our postings in the Snowmen Effect Category.

The unspoken attitude of our Mayor and the Metroplex Chair seems to be that Schenectady is the old Mohawk term for “Second-Rate-City“. Consequently, they have failed to demand, or at the least strenuously bargain for, the best for our City from Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. The result is a tremendous lost opportunity for Schenectady to truly shine and succeed at our only remaining riverbank land suitable for commercial development and public recreation.  The bollard crop along the Mohawk also suggests that Schenectady’s Snowmen/women are not merely on the Boards that review projects, but also in the offices that are supposed to see that reviewed plans are implemented as approved or as promised by an applicant. The situation with readily visible aspects of Mohawk Harbor also makes us wonder what is going on with items that are not readily seen by the public (such as the “shoddy work” recently alleged at a Harborside Drive building).

Having beget a “bummer” crop of bright, yellow, too-tall* bollards, the same municipal officials now stand as mute as snowmen when Rivers Casino complains that it is losing business because of an unfair tax structure compared to its competitors, and seeks tax breaks that would cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue. See “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid.”] Leaders and residents should instead point out that one very big reason Rivers Casino finds it hard to compete is that they have built a homely, mediocre, regional gambling facility, with the acquiescence and cooperation of City Hall and Metroplex, despite the promise to create an international tourist attraction for Schenectady.

  • Financial Realities. Rush Street does not have to meet its bloated projections for Rivers Casino in Schenectady to prosper on the Mohawk. Failing to attract visitors beyond a small geographic radius, Rivers Casino seems content to focus on: Seeking tax breaks; Slots (the most addictive form of casino gambling) as the focus of its gaming growth; Sports gambling (which might siphon off gambling dollars that are taxed at a much higher rate); and attracting Non-gambling spending at the Casino, which helps the bottomline of Rush Street and its associated enterprises, but reduces gaming tax revenue to the State, County and City, and hurts other local businesses. And, City Hall and The County Building seem content with this situation, continuing to call the Casino their Partner.
  • New Attitude Needed. Schenectady’s government leaders disarmed themselves when dealing with the Casino applicants, giving away leverage that could have assured many additional benefits for the City and County and its residents, like The Giveaways Rush Street has made or promised other prospective casino towns.  They will have few if any comparable opportunities, now that the project design and the zoning changes demanded by the Applicants have been approved. Nevertheless, a new attitude that, at the very least, asserts the position of Senior Partner for local government can hopefully salvage a few benefits, avoid some disadvantages, and help restore some civic pride.

Geelong Bollards by Jan Mitchell

Continue reading

cherry blossom surprises

Two days ago (April 23, 2019), I had two surprises when I left the Stockade neighborhood with my camera looking for 2019 cherry blossoms. (To see blossoms in the Stockade this year, go to “suns along the Mohawk.)

One surprise was pleasant and one was not.

cb Harbor . .  IMG_0449

. . above: [L] Good Surprise at Mohawk Harbor; [R] Bad Surprise at City Hall

RiversSchdyRenderFront

Rivers Casino rendering

PLEASANT SURPRISE: For the past few years, I have been amused by the cherry blossoms inserted by Rush Street Gaming in the renderings it used to depict the first set of plans for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. E.g. see image on the right. For example, on April 26, 2015, I wrote in a posting at this site:

By the way, in its environmental remarks to the Location Board, concerning impacting nearby neighborhoods or historic sites, Rush Street the Applicant said there are design elements of the project that reflect the Stockade influence. Perhaps they mean the cherry blossoms that will apparently bloom all year long at Mohawk Harbor’s Casino, but only about a week in the real Stockade District.

SchdyCasinoRenderingRear I had not yet seen cherry blossoms outdoors at Mohawk Harbor, and certainly not along the entrance to Rivers Casino, as shown in the rendering.  But, given the emphasis on cherry blossoms to the rear of the Casino-Hotel and near the riverbank (see rendering at Left and immediately below to the Right),  I decided to check out the situation while out hitting other blossom spots outside the Stockade.

casino-atti-landscape

cb HarborAlthough I did not find the robust mini-groves of trees indicated in the Casino’s renderings, nor groupings that might one day be robust or mini-groves, I did find a few young trees with cherry blossoms abloom, east of The Landing Hotel, on the casino-side of the ALCO bike-pedestrian path. See the trees pictured on the Left and at the top of this posting. There may be others that are not healthy enough to bloom or that are late-bloomers, but three healthy cherry blossom trees at Mohawk Harbor counts as a pleasant surprise, given the track record of the developers and of public servants charged with assuring compliance with plans.

UNPLEASANT SURPRISE.  About a half hour before arriving at Mohawk Harbor, I stopped for my annual viewing of the beautiful array of cherry blossoms in front of Schenectady’s City Hall, on either side of the main entrance, along Jay Street. My surprise was unpleasant and dispiriting. The trees that had for years given us gorgeous displays of bright pink cherry blossoms were gone. One rather straggly weeping blossom tree did survive, near the main stairway.

Instead of this array, seen on May 3, 2018:

CIty Hall May 3, 2018

. . on April 23, 2019, I encountered this scene:

IMG_0449

. . along with several indications that something was missing:

img_0452

  At this point, I have not heard any explanation from our consistently benighted City Hall and the McCarthy Administration for the cherry blossom massacre. George Washington could not tell a lie about chopping down a cherry tree. I wonder how the Mayor will respond. As/if any explanations are forthcoming, I will report them in updates at this posting.

  • For more photos of the former cherry blossom array at City Hall, go to the suns along the Mohawk posting “in mem. City Hall Cherry Blossoms.” Who could have guess there would be more cherry blossoms at Mohawk Harbor than at City Hall?

From the webpost “in mem. City Hall Cherry Blossoms“, at suns along the Mohawk:

update (April 29, 2019):

In the Gazette article “Removal of City Hall cherry trees leads to muted blooms (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, April 29, 2019, at C1, City Engineer Chris Wallin gave the City’s explanation for removal of the trees:

“They were removed so the city could perform our window restoration project,” City Engineer Chris Wallin said. “Under that contract, all of our original windows in the building will be removed, restored and replaced.”

With the help of a consultant, the city determined six trees were located too close to the building to perform the work effectively, prohibiting the installation of equipment and rigging.

The trees were not original to the building’s construction, and were planted in 2005 to commemorate Arbor Day by Re-Tree Schenectady, a non-profit organization that plants trees around the city.

. . .

IMG_7012-001 Wallin acknowledged the pleasant springtime vibrancy produced by the trees, but said cherry trees, in particular, require vigilant pruning and maintenance to keep under control, and the city hadn’t always performed the work.

“They started to really obscure the front of the building, which is a historically significant building,” Wallin said.

That wouldn’t happen in front of White House or Executive Mansion in Albany, he said.

A few points in rebuttal and in sorrow:

  • The sub-headline in the website edition of the Gazette was fact-based: “Trees removed to make way for restoration project”. But, the sub-headline in the print edition draws a conclusion: “Loss of blooms was unavoidable, but may make a return following city hall restoration project.” (Emphasis added, and sentiment rejected by your Editor.)
  • It is almost too obvious, but I might as well say it: Proper pruning over the years, and/or additional pruning last year to prepare for the restoration project should have been sufficient to save the trees. In my opinion, our so-called Tree City really needs an Arborist, and she or he should not be under the thumb of the Mayor or City Engineer, but should make recommendations based on good-faith, tree-oriented evaluations.
  • I’ve noted before that “Our Tree City has never found a reason too trivial to justify removing even healthy trees.”

p.s. Thank you, Gazette, for reporting on this topic and using our photo to illustrate what was lost.

CherryTrees2018-Gaz29Apr2019

 

Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid

. . . or, don’t care about the facts or taxpayers

. . update (June 19, 2019): They’re at it again; see “Not again, Mr. Steck!

emptypockets Rush Street Gaming’s billionaire CEO/Owner Neil Bluhm is back walking the halls of the New York State Legislature trying to get a tax break for their Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. [See “Schenectady casino seeks lower tax rates: Tax credit floated as relief” (Albany Times Union, by David Lombardo, March 29, 2019); “Rivers Casino takes another crack at a tax cut: Schenectady facility says highest tax rate among New York casinos puts it at a disadvantage” (Schenectady Gazette, March 28, 2019)].

openpalmgThey are again whining about the unfairness of the gaming tax structure, and have bolstered their specious arguments with a flood of misleading statements about their new competitor, MGM Springfield. They are also acting as if an Advertising Allowance tax credit is not a tax break. [follow-up (April 14, 2019): According to the Sunday Gazette, Rivers Casino just had its best month ever, but continues its whining and seeking tax breaks.]

Below is the slightly edited text of an email that I sent to members of the media this afternoon (Friday, March 29), in the hope that the press will dilute Mr. Bluhm’s Casino Chicanery with facts, and that our Legislators will care about the facts. It has been supplemented with arguments against the Marketing Allowance.

MGMSpringfRevs . . Left: MGM Springfield Tax Revenue Report . . 

Email Message

Rush Street Gaming is again seeking tax cuts from Albany for its Schenectady Rivers Casino, using misleading information and half-truths, plus a boatful of whining. 

 
Here are the facts:
When it applied for a casino license in July 2014, Rush Street Gaming knew:
  • The gaming revenue tax on a Capital Region casino, as stated in the 2013 enabling legislation,  would be 45% on Slots and 10% on all other gaming revenue, with lower rates on slots in other Regions (that had less population density, fewer economic resources, and more competitors, i.e., racinos, Indian and Canadian casinos).
  • MGM Springfield had received its license in June 2013 and was planning to build a spectacular casino resort on a bend of the Connecticut River, in the historic and cultural center of Springfield.
  • The gaming tax in Massachusetts would be 25% on all casino gaming revenue proceeds (slots and table games).
  • There might be a second full casino in western Massachusetts (but that has not happened).
 
Rivers says that this unfair rate differential has lowered its Slots income, however:
  • In the six full months since MGM Springfield has been in operation (Sept. 2018 through February 2019), Slot GGR at Rivers Casino has increased 10.4% over the same months the prior year,  from $46,090,049 to $50,902,095. Update: In both 2018 and 2019, the total increase at Rivers Casino in gaming revenue (slots/ETG, table games, and poker) over the prior year was in fact from Slots/ETG play. See Monthly Reports
Rivers says its unfair tax burden makes it impossible to fairly compete with MGM Springfield, and they need a slots tax rate below 40%, but:
 

From Sep 2018 through Feb. 2019, Rivers paid approx. $24 million in Gaming Tax, that equals a blended 34% gaming tax on its Total GGR. See Rivers Casino Monthly Financial Reports. While, from Sept. 2018 through Feb. 2019, MGM Springfield paid approximately $33 million in Gaming Tax, 25% of Total GGR.  See MassGaming Revenue Report on MGM SpringfieldHOWEVER, 

red check Rush Street is not mentioning that, under its Host Community Agreement with Springfield: 

  • MGM Resorts paid upfront and advance payments, totaling $15 million to the City of Springfield during the construction phase including pre-payment of taxes for general city purposes as well as:
    • $2.5 million to purchase equipment and to provide training for police, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.
    • $1 million to redevelop Riverfront Park.
  • Big$Jackpot Once opening for business, MGM Springfield must make more than $25 million in annual payments to the City. This includes $17.6 million in lieu of tax payments as well as, among other things:
    • $2.5 million to fund operating and other costs for police, firefighters, emergency medical services and education.
    • $2.5 million for a Community Development Fund to be administered by the city to support early childhood education, higher education, libraries, health initiatives, and the betterment of the city and its residents.
  • And, other $50 million coming up: Just last week, MGM Springfield reported to the Mass. Gaming Commission  that it intends to invest in the proposed $55 million redevelopment of the long-vacant Court Square hotel building in downtown Springfield as part of an obligation to build housing within one-half mile of its resort casino. See WAMC Report.

See the MassGaming 4-page Summary of Springfield HCA, for the amazing array of extra obligations MGM Springfield has undertaken while Rush Street just pays what it has to pay under the 2013 Legislation. 

exclamationpoint
 It should be clear that the Massachusetts gaming tax structure intentionally took into account the obligation of any casino applicant to negotiate an HCA or Mitigation Agreement with the host municipality, with its consequent large financial obligations over and above the State gaming revenue tax.
.
RIVERS CASINO never entered into an HCA with the City of Schenectady, as Mayor Gary McCarthy refused to negotiate for one, as did Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen. It paid no upfront money during construction, and no economic development funds for the community. (see our posting “answering Mayor McCarthy on HCAs“, June 28, 2015)
  • NYS Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (Dem., Mt Vernon), the Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Racing and Wagering, has been insisting that Rivers Casino offered to pay an “exorbitant” amount over the mandated gambling revenue tax, and should now be given a break. However, Rivers pays exactly the amount called for in the 2013 Legislation, under which it would have to pay more if it had offered to do so as part of its Application. Instead, The Report and Findings of the New York Gaming Facility Location Board (Feb. 27, 2015, at 261) specifically states in the section captioned “Maximizing revenues received by the state and localities. (§ 1320(1)(b))”, that:  Rivers does not propose a supplemental tax payment or increased license fee.
    • Mr. Pretlow may be confusing Rush Street’s generous offering in its application for a gaming license at Beacon NY, with its parsimonious approach to Schenectady.
.
MGMSpringfield-rend2 . . . MGMSpringfield-render
.
above: the $960 million MGM Springfield Casino Resort; below: the $340 million Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (front entrance on R, rear and hotel on L)
.
MHrailing14Oct2018 . . Rivers08Feb2018

 

WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE BUSES TO MGM Springfield?

  • CasinoBusTripMRM Resorts spent $960 million to build a spectacular, true destination casino, in a bustling, interesting neighborhood
  • Rush Street, after bragging that it builds spectacular international destinations in its Applications, spent merely $320 million at Mohawk Harbor, and has produced, at best, a homely, mediocre regional casino, which targets and predominantly attracts local residents and perhaps those living within a 60-mile radius
  • By failing to insist on a true destination casino, Schenectady’s Mayor, City Council majority and Planning Commission, and the County’s Metroplex and Legislature, condemned our City to a mediocre Casino that will be constantly failing to meet its bloated projections and wanting tax breaks. See, e.g., our posting “casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?” (January 19, 2017)

920x920 Exactly a year ago, we were in the same situation, waiting to see if the rush to the Legislative Budget Deadline (April 1), would bring with it a budget that included casino tax breaks. See “bum’s rush needed” (March 28, 2018). We were pleased at the time that Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not favor casino tax breaks. Also, the Gazette Editorial Board wrote a piece entitled “Editorial: No state financial deals for casinos”  In addition, on Sunday March 30, 2018, the Times Union editorial board weighed in with “Editorial: Say no to casino subsidies“, which included the nifty illustration by Jeff Boyer that is at the head of this paragraph.

2019CalendarPediaFollow-up (January 17, 2020): The results at Rivers Casino for calendar year 2019 help demonstrate why the Capital Region casino has a higher Slots gaming tax rate (45%) than the commercial casinos in other regions (38%). See the Albany Times Union article “Rivers best-performing of NY’s original Vegas-style casinos: Schenectady venue up 11 percent compared with 2018″ (by Lauren Stanforth, Dec. 25, 2019), which reports that: “Rivers Casino and Resort continues to outperform among the state’s three original commercial gaming facilities — growing the most in percentage of overall revenue compared with last year.” And,

Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural said he always assumed Rivers would be the most successful of the four facilities because it is the only one located near an urban center.

“You just have to look at the population and the type of people,” said Gural, a New York real estate magnate who also owns the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. “With sports betting trends, they’re probably getting a lot of college kids. … Del Lago is in the middle of nowhere; Monticello (Resorts World) is in the middle of nowhere. Without a question the best location in New York is Rivers.”

The article notes that, of course: “Despite the favorable revenue uptick, Rivers had lobbyists at the Capitol earlier this year trying to sway state legislators to provide tax or other relief in the face of what it describes as competition coming from MGM Springfield two hours to the east.” We have consistently pointed out that the higher rate was used in the Capital Region because of its higher population density. Casinos get most of their business from within a 30 to 40-mile radius. It is pretty clear that Rivers Casino does not “out-perform” the other commercial NYS casinos on the metric of “revenue per capita” within their respective core focus areas.

SteckAtRiversCasino

Phil Steck at Rivers Casino

 Marketing Allowance? For some reason, we are supposed to believe that a Marketing Allowance is not a tax break, although it would reduce River Casino’s gaming tax burden by 10% of the Casino’s marketing expenses. Last year, we noted on this topic that: “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.

Steck-Golub-McCarthyatCasino Assemblyman Steck apparently still supports such a Marketing Allowance, if it brings in more revenue, but does not demonstrate how that would happen.  As I noted last year in correspondence with Mr. Steck, Rivers Casino already does a lot of advertising and marketing (a rather basic expense for doing business in a capitalist market), and if doing more would increase its revenue in any way, it would be doing just that. Moreover:

  1. DSCF4456Much of Rivers’ marketing appears to be aimed at bringing in non-gambling customers to the Casino complex and Mohawk Harbor. That business (drinking, dining, conventions, fight shows, concerts) does not add to Rivers’ gaming tax obligations (45% on slots, 10% on table games and poker). Instead, it merely increases profits for the Casino and its business associates, and generates the much lower taxes based on food and similar sales taxes (often “cannibalizing” the business of other local businesses).
  2. DisoverySchyCasino.jpg Rivers Casino is already a major beneficiary of the County’s Tourism Bureau and Discovery Schenectady programs for gaming and convention programs.
  3. MohHarb30ftPylonMohawk Harbor was allowed to put a giant shopping-mall style 30′ high by 18′ wide pylon sign, that looms over Erie Blvd. at a location that normally would permit only a 7′ high sign under our Zoning Code. In permitting the sign, after literal begging for the favor by Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, the Board of Zoning Appeals reversed a decision it had made just weeks before. The pylon sign contains a large LCD screen that changes message every 8 seconds; safety-conscious cities and planners discourage such distractions so close to a busy intersection. Isn’t this quite enough favoritism at the expense of the public interest for Mohawk Harbor and its Casino tenant?

Phil Steck balked when I called him “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” last year. But, I cannot imagine the normally-thoughtful Mr. Steck offering even his current conditional support for the Marketing Allowance, were Mohawk Harbor not in his Assembly District.

 

. . share this post with this URL: http://tinyurl.com/WhiningRivers

RiversCasino-eastentrance

. . many locals believe this northeast Harbor Way entrance to Rivers Casino, with its utility bollards, parking garage, and Hotel, is the more attractive (and far less tacky) view of the Casino . . 

Slots and Problem Gambling Prevention

SCHENECTADY HAS A SLOTS GAMBLING PROBLEM

Problem gambling” means gambling behaviors that result in serious negative consequences to the gambler, and his or her family and friends, employer, or community. It can affect people in any age, racial, or economic group, but youth (kids; adolescents and college students), and senior citizens are thought to be particularly at-risk.

MGM Resorts “GameSense” Page

The Problem Gambling Awareness Month theme for March 2019 is “Awareness Plus Action.” This post continues our campaign to make Schenectady Aware of its growing Slots Gambling Problem and to suggest what action is needed, and by whom (with a compilation below of useful resources).

This website’s posting on March 11, 2019 repeats the cautionary message that the increase in gaming revenue at the Schenectady Rivers Casino in its 2nd Year of operation was totally generated from slots, with Slots play up 14.7%, but Table Games and Poker play both showing a reduction from Rivers’ first year of operation. The trend continues in the weeks since the Casino’s 2nd Anniversary: Revenue numbers in February through mid-March 2019 show Slots up 12% and Table Games down over 2.3% from the same weeks in 2018. [See our posting “Slotsification on the Mohawk“, August 13, 2018, for an introduction to the topic, and the coining of the word Slotsification.]

hazardsignFollow-up (March 3, 2020): The Slots Problem Problem continued and grew at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino in 2019. Slots/ETG gross gaming revenue increased by $13.6 million in 2019 over 2018, which is 12.9%, while Table Game wagering went down 4.5%, and Poker table play down 6% in 2019. [See the Weekly Revenue Reports from Rivers Casino, and its Monthly Reports.]

As a community, we should be concerned that only slots, the most addictive form of casino gambling, is increasing at Rivers Casino. Bean counters and economic development cheerleaders looking at the ripple effects of the Casino might also worry that Rivers Casino, despite its Marina & Amphitheater and the Landing Hotel, may not be attracting a significant number of medium-to-high-rollers, with their extra tourist dollars.

 Increased revenues from Slots undoubtedly means an increase in the risk of Problem Gambling and gambling addiction in our community, with all of the resultant damage to the gamblers, their families and friends, employers, and our entire society. (See our March 2, 2016 posting for more on the negative effects of problem gambling; and see “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018); and “Foss: More problem gamblers seeking treatment (Gazette, Jan. 13, 2018).

This added hazard for Schenectady is especially serious because slots players are likely to be predominately local residents, and from more vulnerable groups such as older and poorer patrons.  In assessing just how damaging the slotsification trend might be, It would be useful to know the demographics of the increase in slots play, and to ascertain whether it corresponds with more patrons playing slots or the same number or fewer players spending more time on the slot machines. Unlike last year, when Rivers Casino announced in the first week of February 2018 the figures for the number of patrons in 2017, the number of patrons at Rivers in 2018 has not yet been announced as of the last week of March.

AddictionByDesign-Schüll-Cover A good explanation of how/why slots are so addictive can be found in the New York Times article Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (October 10, 2013). It was written by Natasha Dow Schüll, and anthropologist and the author of Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas” (Princeton University Press, 2013). Her book’s message is described in the article “Did you know these 7 surprises about slots” (Psychology Today, Nov. 4, 2012), by social psychologist Susan K. Perry, PhD, who notes that:

Companies don’t seek to create addicts, they say, but they do admit to designing machines that compel consumers to gamble longer, faster, and more. Addiction is the result.

Among the “seven surprises” about slots that Dr. Perry lists, are (emphases added):

  • Machines with buttons and credits, instead of pull handles and coins, allow hundreds of games, rather than a few games, to be played in a minute.
  • Addiction can happen quickly with video gambling devices, in a year rather than three or more with other forms of gambling.
  • Modern slot machines are designed precisely to do what they do: take your money by putting you into a glassy-eyed trance so you won’t walk away while you have a single dollar or credit left.
  • Coincidence? It may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by Brown University psychiatrist Robert Breen have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll). 

 AWARENESS & ACTION? 

 With the awareness that slots play is growing in Schenectady and is likely to increase the incidence of problem gambling and gambling addiction in our community, what action can we take to minimize or at least reduce the negative effects? While I applaud increased State funding for the treatment of those suffering from gambling addiction, it seems obvious that any good faith and effective effort to deal with Problem Gambling must focus far more on Prevention, not merely Treatment. Prevention requires active education about gambling (from the odds of winning, to risks of addiction, and the signs of trouble in an individual, to the differences between safe and risky gambling behavior) and intentional cultivation of a community attitude that encourages Safe Gambling Practices and discourages Risky Gambling Behavior. We must stop treating our Casino as somehow glamorous and suggesting that patrons are performing a civic duty by helping to make the Casino successful.

In the four years since Rush Street Gaming was selected to operate the Capital Region’s commercial casino in Schenectady, its actions at Rivers Casino and the activities and programs of our State and local governmental entities (or their absence), make it clear:

We cannot look to either the Casino nor Government to provide programs that will effectively arm the public with information and advice on making casino gambling safer and avoiding high-risk gambling. Their actions to date focus almost totally on persons who already show the signs of a gambling addiction problem. Groups and individuals throughout our Community must act to protect ourselves.

WHY NOT RELY ON THE CASINO’s PROMISES? The answer seems too obvious to belabor, but the words and actions of Rivers Casino and its owners seem to confirm our skepticism. Rush Street Gaming declared in its Application to the NYS Racing Commission for a Schenectady casino license that “the existence of gaming at Rivers Casino is not expected to lead to an increase in prevalence rates in the local area,” due to funding for treatment programs, and the prior existence of slots in Saratoga and casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut.  With that assertion, Rush Street denied that increased proximity and access to casino-style gambling will increase the prevalence of problem gambling in our community. [For a contrary view based on studies, see Why Casinos Matter, by the Council on Casinos of the Institute for American Values, (at 18-19), stating that the prevalence of problem gambling doubles within a ten-mile radius of a casino.]

At a symposium on problem gambling held at Schenectady County Community College in March 2017, the Rush Street representative was excited about their efforts to promote responsible gambling, but those efforts apparently revolve around helping the staff identify underage persons, problem gamblers and drinkers, and policing the state’s mandated self-exclusion program, and merely track the requirements imposed by the NYS Gaming Commission. The photo at the head of this paragraph shows a power-point image by Rivers Casino at the 2017 symposium. It says they want their patrons to be there “to simply have fun”, and declares that “We do not want people who cannot gamble responsibly to play at our casino.” Yet, we could find nothing to support that sentiment on the floor of the Casino, nor at their website or Facebook Page, beyond the obligatory caption “Must be 21+. Gambling Problem? Call 877-8-HOPENY or text HOPENY (467369)”.

MGM Resorts Facebook PGAM post

Indeed, as of today, March 27th, I have found no mention of Problem Gambling Awareness Month at Rivers Casino itself nor on its Facebook page and web site.

In contrast, the MGM Resorts Facebook Page has a posting about Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2019, “Learn about GameSense and Responsible Gambling this March“, with a video introducing its GameSense program (March 4, 2019). [see image to the left] You can find more about GameSense and the MGM Resorts efforts below.

The MGM GameSense program appears to be the first of its kind to be presented by a commercial casino group. Can we expect Rivers Casino to adopt a similar approach to problem gambling prevention? Our Casino has been consistently handled with kid gloves and favored status by City and County government and our business leaders. With no pressure coming from local leadership, it seems unlikely that Rivers Casino will act against its financial interests and make any significant effort at actually preventing problem gambling. As stated in Why Casinos Matter (emphases added):

image by Jeff Boyer/Times Union

Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.  Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so. This evidence contradicts claims by gambling lobbyists that their industry wants to attract only those customers who play casually “for fun.” Indeed, if casinos had to rely on such casual customers, they would not long survive. A Canadian study found that casual players comprised 75 percent of players but contributed only 4 percent of net gambling revenue. The casinos’ real money comes from problem gamblers.

In attempting to explain why SugarHouse [now called Rivers Philadelphia Casino], a Philadelphia Casino also owned by Rush Street Gaming, had allowed a person on its Self-Exclusion List to gamble for 72 hours at SugarHouse,

Rosemarie Cook, vice president for gaming at SugarHouse, responded that many customers return day after day. “So it’s not unusual in our casino to see somebody the next day and the day after that and the day after that,” she said. “It’s a local market.”  [See “Policing gamblers who can’t police themselves isn’t easy” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Jennifer Lin, September 9, 2013)]

Ms. Cook is describing exactly the kind of casino patronage at her Rush Street Gaming casino that is most likely to nurture gambling addiction, while bringing in the largest payoff for the casino. There is no reason to believe that such day-after-day local patrons are not fueling the slotsification of Rivers Casino. And, no reason to believe Rivers Casino wants to change that Schenectady scenario.

COMPARE RIVERS CASINO’s APPROACH to PROBLEM GAMBLING (and Slots) WITH THAT of MGM RESORTS:

RIVERS CASINO at MOHAWK HARBOR:

  • On its FACEBOOK PAGENo mention of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, at least not from Feb. 23, 2019 through March 27, 2019.
  • At its main website? There is a very minimalist Responsible Gaming page.  It states: “Rush Street Gaming is committed to make responsible gaming a priority and takes this issue very seriously. While many are able to gamble responsibly, there is a small portion of the population who can develop a serious, sometimes uncontrollable gambling problem. This can affect persons of any age, income, gender or race at any time.

“To protect them and others affected by their behavior, Rivers Casino established a set of policies and guidelines which deal with issues such as underage gambling, problem gambling, responsible marketing, and improper use or abuse of alcohol.”

    • The Rivers Responsible Gaming page has no direct information on responsible or safe gambling practices. And, given the vagueness of the reference, the public may not realize that the linked “policies and guidelines” document is not merely for internal company use, but offers a list of Ten Warning Signs of problem/addictive gambling, with the advice: “If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, please call the following 24-hour confidential national hotlines and/or websites:” [with a few resources listed for those needing help]
    • Its Slots WebPage is entirely a promotion of their “slot player’s paradise”, with no mention of responsible gaming or information on how slots work.
  • On-site at the Casino: I gave myself a tour or Rivers Casino on March 13, and could find no signs or posters or brochures, etc., about Problem Gambling Month.

MGM RESORTS:

  • MGM Resorts Facebook Page has a posting about Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2019, with a video introducing its GameSense program: “Learn about GameSense and Responsible Gambling this March” (March 4, 2019). The accompanying text says, “To help our guests make informed decisions at the casino, we offer responsible gaming tools and resources through our GameSense program.” GameSense is the first program of its kind, in partnership with the National Council of Problem Gambling, and promotes a “positive and safe gaming experience”. The goal: to “support and encourage each other to help ensure everyone has a good time while gambling.” The video reminds casino players: “It is important to set a budget, set a time limit, and no one should gamble more than they can afford to lose.
  • On its main MGM Resorts website, you can find its GameSense Guide to Slots, in addition to a helpful Responsible Gaming page.
  •  At the top of the MGM Slots WebPage is a link to “Tips on How to Play, and Win, at Video Slot Machines“. Up front it tells you, “Video slots work completely at random, nothing is predetermined, there are no patterns in payouts and the reel spins freely. . . Sure, everyone has a strategy for finding the one loose slot that will pay out more than the others, but in reality, it’s all up to chance.” The 8 Tips incorporate advice on setting a budget, limiting time, not chasing losses [that is, continue to play to try to win back losses], taking breaks, etc. Tip #8 is a reminder to “Have Fun”, with the advice, “ If you’ve run out of luck for one day, just move on and come back another day to try again. Make it enjoyable and entertaining!”, and includes a link to its responsible gaming page.
  • Inside MGM Resorts casinos: GameSense signs, reading materials, and advisors.

. . Below: GameSense Tips. Six common-sense ways to practice low-risk gambling to keep gambling fun (click on image for a larger version) . . 

WHAT ABOUT GOVERNMENT EFFORTS? When government entities and politicians bring a casino into an urban setting, they have a major obligation to help prevent problem and addictive gambling, for the sake of the entire community. Do New York State and Schenectady County and City have a strong incentive to combat the Rivers Casino Slotsification? We doubt it, despite Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul stating in May 2018:

“With this annual commitment in state funding, we are working to ensure a balance between new gaming options and an increase in education about addiction. We don’t only want to treat individuals struggling with addiction, but prevent people from becoming addicted and educate New Yorkers about the issue across the State.”

[Lt. Gov. Hochul’s remarks refer to added funding for Problem Gambling Awareness and Education that was announced simultaneously by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS):Click here for our coverage of the OASAS Announcement]

More realistically, the monograph “Poverty and Casino Gambling in Buffalo” (Center for the Public Good, January 19, 2011) succinctly states the reality and context [quoting Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission]:

“any trend away from slot machines, which are the most lucrative form of casino gambling, would hurt the state’s revenues from casinos.

Our City Hall and County Legislature are banking on major tax relief that is based on the size of Casino revenues. Thus, for reasons very similar to those of the Casino, we have not been able to count on local government to seriously recognize the imminent growth of Schenectady’s problem gambling problem and to combat it with a preventive approach. A minor example: almost every agenda for our City Council Meetings lists Resolutions and Proclamations recognizing all sorts of groups and issues, but it has never proclaimed March (or any other month) as Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy never demanded a host community or damage mitigation agreement from Rush Street Gaming, when considering whether to approve their Application to the Casino Location Board. As a result, the Mayor and his Administration, along with Metroplex and County Government, never did or commissioned any independent research or investigation that could be used to rebut the glib claims of Rush Street and Galesi Group that a casino would have no significant added costs or negative impact on the City, or area. The research and warnings of a group like Stop the Schenectady Casino were simply ignored, as was the example given by other host cities. Instead, City Hall insisted there would be no negative impact from a Schenectady Casino. (See our posting on The Mayor and HCAs.)

Therefore, it is not a surprise that neither the City nor County of Schenectady has played any active role to help combat Problem Gambling, nor that State-funded efforts have not taken a more holistic and preventative approach. As welcome as current state-funded, public-oriented problem gambling awareness programs may be, they are they are far too focused on people already feeling the damaging effects of problem gambling in their lives. E.g., Self-exclusion programs, Hot Lines, in-patient beds, counseling services. [See image to the right.]

Thus, a media and billboard program using the funding announced by OASAS in May 2018 uses the slogan “You’re not Alone”. That sentiment clearly is aimed at persons already struggling with the negative effects of problem gambling, not at casual players.

Similarly, the NYS Gaming Commission announced a promising new program in its Press Release of March 4, 2019, captioned “NYS Gaming Commission Marks National Problem Gambling Awareness Month with First-of-its-Kind Public-Private Collaboration“. The effort includes a new 15-second video PSA announcement and 30-second radio PSA announcement, that are “Slated to run at no cost on commercial TV, radio, and social media,” plus a widespread postering campaign, and custom lottery-related PGAM messaging.

But, the new program’s initial efforts are disappointing, in that they continue the focus on people already struggling with gambling addiction issues. Thus, here are the crossword-style core image and caption used in the PSA and posters, etc.:

 . .

 Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope had been that community education and prevention activities might be in operation prior to the Casino’s opening, in order to help inoculate the population of Schenectady against the anticipated tsunami of publicity for the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its resulting Casino Fever. As expected, in addition to the Casino’s own advertising and promotions, publicity for the Casino has included government and media cheerleading, as casino “gaming” is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity.

Our goal has not been to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create a healthy, informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than a high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.  Unfortunately, over the past few years, our local government leaders have not stepped up to put Problem Gambling Awareness programs into place. While a large percentage of our population has proven resistant to Casino Fever, or suffered only a brief case of the malady, it appears that Rivers Casino has attracted and kept enough slots-oriented patrons to make the growth of problem gambling disorders in our local populace a major concern.  This makes “inoculation” or prophylactic measures even more important to safeguard the as yet un-infected, among current and future slots players, and other casino users.

 The requested governmental programs never materialized, and perhaps more discouraging, there was no noticeable pressure or even subtle outcry by the non-profit sector or relevant actors in the for-profit healthcare industry, for such problem gambling efforts. Instead, major social events have been held with gambling themes at Rivers Casino, and two leading members of the healthcare industry in Schenectady, Ellis Hospital and MVP, actually sponsored Table Game Lessons at Rivers Casino [note the sponsors at the bottom of the ad to the left, and see our related posting]

Question: WHAT ACTIONS ARE REALISTICALLY AVAILABLE TO PREVENT, NOT JUST TREAT, PROBLEM GAMBLING?  Answer: WE NEED A COMMITMENT FROM ALL SEGMENTS OF OUR COMMUNITY TO UTILIZE OR CREATE RESOURCES THAT FOSTER LOW-RISK, SAFE GAMBLING PRACTICES.

  1. OUR PRIVATE SECTOR, both for-profit (especially healthcare, and the helping and counseling professions), and not-for-profit (e.g., civic groups, senior centers, schools at every level, faith communities, and neighborhood associations, perhaps aided by the Schenectady Foundation), must step up to “inoculate” against Casino Fever and Slots Addiction, with helpful information and practical advice, to nurture healthy attitudes about gambling, especially casino gambling, using a variety of means and media aimed at all segments of the community.
  2. SAFER/LOW-RISK gambling practices must be encouraged, and HIGH-RISK practices discouraged. Examples are given below.
  3. Casino Gambling should be like any other form of leisure activity and entertainment:
    1. pursued for fun and relaxation, an occasional outing, where you play for fun, not to get rich;
    2. using your leisure budget, and aware what you are likely to spend at each visit (as at the theater, a sports event, or a restaurant), with bugeted losses the price of the night’s entertainment, and any wins a nice bonus. 
  4. Ripple Effect: The lessons and thus the benefits of a Safe Gambling Campaign will apply to all other forms of gambling in our community, such as Lottery and Sports Betting.

GOOD NEWS: A Treasure Trove/Jackpot of relevant, interesting, and sometimes even fun, materials, in many media (posters, brochures, videos, billboards, tv and radio and internet PSAs), and aimed at many audiences, already exists. It is easy to find online, and available for free download, often with free hardcopy versions, too.

The following are resources worth checking out, either to use them directly, modify them for local use, or as inspiration for some Schenectady Creativity.

PROBLEM GAMBLING CANADA

This thoughtful, well-constructed, nonjudgmental site has much to offer individuals, families, and communities dealing with problem gambling issues. See ProblemGambling.ca

An excellent example is this list of factors involved in

Low Risk and Harmful Gambling

Not all gambling is a problem. Gambling may be low risk, or it may be harmful.

Low-risk gambling means you:

    • Limit how much time and money you spend gambling
    • Accept your losses, and don’t try to win them back
    • Enjoy winning, but know it happened by chance
    • Balance gambling with other fun activities
    • Don’t gamble to earn money or pay debts
    • Don’t gamble when your judgment is impaired by alcohol or other drugs
    • Never borrow money or use personal investments or family savings to gamble
    • Don’t gamble to escape from your problems or feelings
    • Don’t hurt your job, health, finances, reputation or family through your gambling

Harmful gambling means you have started to:

    • Lie about your gambling or keep it a secret
    • Lose track of time and play for longer than you meant to
    • Feel depressed or angry after gambling
    • Spend more money than you planned, or more than you can afford
    • Ignore work and family responsibilities because of gambling
    • Borrow money or use household money to gamble
    • “Chase your losses” to try to win back your money
    • Believe that gambling will pay off in the end
    • See gambling as the most important thing in your life
    • Use gambling to cope with your problems or to avoid things
    • Have conflicts with family and friends over gambling
    • Ignore your physical and emotional health because of gambling.

ProblemGambling.org/ca has many online self-help tools.

Smart.Play is a website created by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), a provincial Crown Corporation that conducts and manages province-wide lotteries, casinos, and slot facilities. As a Crown Corporation, it is fully owned by the Ontario Provincial Government. It presents information to fulfill its Pledge to Players:

  1. WE PLEDGE TO COMMUNICATE HOW GAMES WORK

    To be clear, straightforward and offer you the relevant facts.

  2. WE PLEDGE TO OFFER YOU KNOWLEDGE YOU CAN USE

    To guide you – as a new or experienced player – with advice and tools on how to set a game plan that helps you keep gambling as a positive entertainment option.

  3. WE PLEDGE TO KEEP IT FUN

    To show that smart, healthy play habits are engaging and worth your time.

  4. WE PLEDGE TO BE THERE WHEN YOU NEED US

    To listen, respond and offer assistance for getting help if gambling stops being fun.

Play.Smart has information on Table Games and Slots, with material on How to Play, Odds, Strategies, and Etiquette, for each game. Including a series of entertaining videos. Its SLOTS webpages have quite a bit of useful information, explaining how the machines work, what payback and pay-tables are, and more. Here’s advice to Start with a Game Plan (click on the image for a larger version):

If you want to make the point that slot results are totally random, try the cute-cat, 21-second video How Randomness Really Works

NY Council on Problem Gambling  

The New York Council on Problem Gambling website has a rich library of resources of all types for all kinds of people. They encourage you to review all of their downloadable Resources, and suggest contacting staffer Stelianos Canallatos, at SCanallatos@NYProblemGambling.org, “If you have any questions, or need hard copies of any resource.” (Mr. Canallatos has been very helpful to the proprietor of this website over the past few years.)

On its Media Resources page, NYCPG says:

NYCPG MEDIA

NYCPG has created several resource videos to support education, outreach and awareness raising efforts. Videos include PSAs and short films. Video vignettes focusing on sports betting, youth, aging adults and veterans are also available. Watch the videos below to find out more about how gambling impacts individuals, friends and family. Want to view all of our videos? Visit our YouTube page.

Empty Spaces” video

At NYCPG’s Know the Odds website, you will find access to quite a few videos and Public Service Announcements. They explain: “KnowTheOdds has created a variety of videos shown online and as PSAs throughout New York State. Watch the following videos to learn more about problem gambling, and share these videos to help educate family, friends and your community members about the risks associated with being addicted to gambling.” The videos are realistic and powerful, long enough to flesh out the problems of real people, but short enough to share in a group context.

The You(th) Decide website, is also brought to you by the NY Council of Problem Gambling, Inc.  “You(th) Decide NY is a resource for youth, parents and communities, interested in giving YOU(th) the power to DECIDE,” such as deciding about risky behavior such as underage gambling. Parents/Guardians, Youth, and Community Leaders interested in stopping underage gambling will find much to consider.

NYCPG is also a major player in publicizing and honoring Problem Gambling Awareness Month in New York State. [Click here for its Press Release for March 2019, with the topic of Problem Gambling in the Workplace.] “Have the Conversation” has been a recurring theme; in 2017, the goal was that

“every New Yorker have a problem gambling conversation with at least one person in March.”

That goal is still relevant today, and in every month.

The NYCPG website has much information on how to Have the Conversation. Below are thumbnails for Action Sheets aimed at (from L to R) Senior Caregivers, Youth, and Parents.

  . . .   . . . 

OASAS ProblemGambling Brochures

The NYS Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services has a substantial number of brochures to download, including Know the Signs of Addiction. Brochures with information for vulnerable groups are available in English and Spanish. Click on these links for the English version of:

Here’s a section of the OASAS brochure on Problem Gambling & Seniors (click on it to enlarge):

 SCREENING FOR GAMBLING PROBLEMS. Medical and other provider offices and interested organizations may wish to participate in a Screening Day for gambling problems. Gambling Disorder Screening Day was Tuesday, March 12, 2019, but you can hold it on any day. A Screening Toolkit is available at no cost, here, from the Cambridge Health Alliance of Harvard Medical School.

. . . Healthcare providers can also screen their patients . .

The Responsible Gambling Council (Toronto, Canada) is dedicated to the prevention of problem gambling, using knowledge to find solutions. It has very useful material about Safer Play.

The  RGC Safer Play Quick Guide succinctly differentiates high-risk and low-risk gambling:

Safer Gambling Tips

High-Risk vs. Low-Risk Gambling

People who gamble in a high-risk way lose the sense that it’s only a game. They start to see gambling as a way to make money. Or they think they have special luck or abilities. Often when they lose, they bet more and more to try to win back what’s been lost.

People who gamble in a low-risk way naturally follow the principles of safer gambling. They see gambling as a form of entertainment. For them, a small gambling loss is the cost of a night’s entertainment—just like the cost of a movie ticket or a restaurant bill.

The RGC site has links to several Safer Play brochures, in 16 languages. Below are links for the English versions.

There is much to gain spending time at the Responsible Gambling Council site. I’ve been checking it regularly to see its frequently-changing Main Page Photos, which each contain a safer play tip. For example:

 . . .

A similar series featuring Schenectady folk and scenes might an enjoyable and useful safer-gambling project.

  •  Although I’ve focused in this posting on what the Community can do outside the political process, some readers might want to consider a campaign to persuade our State and local governments to increase Education-focused efforts to prevent problem gambling, rather than wait to treat it. For example, Seneca County and casino developer Wilmot [del Lago’s owner] set out the structure for a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program, to be undertaken by the County and the Casino jointly, that will seriously address the issues relating to problem gambling. Schenectady County could, perhaps, invest in Problem Gambling Prevention, to avoid significant Social Services expenses, and other costs in the future.

[Current] CONCLUSION: As individuals and as a community, including our political, business, and civic leaders, we need to recognize and fight Schenectady’s Slots Gambling Problem, as well as other forms of problem gambling. Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.

Let’s all Have the Group Conversation, with members or leaders of at least one social, civic, educational, or religious group, to discuss how you/we can make Schenectady a Healthy-Low-Risk Gambling City and best avoid the problem gambling trap. You could, for instance, brainstorm on how to use existing materials, like those presented above, or to create Schenectady-specific brochures, signs, and even billboards.

Year Three Begins: slots still reign at Rivers Casino

. . .

February 8, 2019 was the 2nd Anniversary of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. As we’ve previously reported, all increased gambling revenue at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino during its second year of operation came from Slots/ETG play, which were up almost 15%, while table games and table poker had reduced revenue. Here’s the breakdown, using the Monthly Reports made by Rivers to the NYS Gaming Commission:

A comparison of the two Rivers Anniversary Months, February 2018 and February 2019, shows the same relationship as the revenue figures in its first and second years of operation: All added revenue is coming from slots:

AnnivMoCompare

We can see, then, that the worrisome trend continued into the first month of the 3rd Year of Operation for Rivers Casino, despite Anniversary Month efforts to promote Poker and Table Games [see, e.g., Casino LED screen at right].

Is Rivers Casino turning into that cursed form of urban “development,” a mediocre regional casino attracting predominantly local patrons who can least afford to gamble, and siphoning off entertainment dollars that were once spread across the local market for leisure activities — and, with no palatable solutions in sight?

No matter what you call this phenomenon — “slotsification”, “slotsploitation”, “Slotsnectady”, etc. — we should be concerned, because slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling. Slots also appeal more than other forms of casino gaming to many members of the most vulnerable groups of prospective gamblers, seniors and the elderly and low-income.

 . .

Just in time for the 2nd Anniversary of Rivers Casino operating at Mohawk Harbor, the State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a 17-page Audit report the first week of February which concluded that the State has failed to assess the human toll of its gambling expansion and needs to better understand the problem, so that its limited resources can be best used to prevent and treat gambling addiction. The stated purpose of the report, “OASAS Problem Gambling Treatment Program (Report 2018-S-39, Feb. 2019), was “To determine whether the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) has sufficient treatment programs for problem gamblers.” See, a Gazette article (Feb. 7, 2019), and related column by Sara Foss. ; and a Times Union article and editorial. It seems clear, that we need to understand who is playing slots at Rivers Casino and how we can help assure that having a casino in our midst does not spread the infection of problem gambling in our community.

As we noted in our posting “slotsification on the Mohawk“:

 It may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll).

We also noted in that post:

Whatever the cause, Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and we will soon be posting a piece about Problem Gambling and Slots.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SlotsReign

2018 gambling revenue at Rivers Casino

 Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor posted its final Weekly Gambling Revenue Report for 2018 yesterday morning (Jan. 4, 2019), at the website of the NYS Gaming Commission. Here’s my summary in a nutshell:

  • GPROJECTION COMPARISON: The $152 million total Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) in 2018 is only 71% of the projection for 2018 [$213.9 million] given in Rush Street Gaming’s Application for its Rivers Casino gaming license. As discussed below, that shortfall exists despite the Casino having achieved virtually all of its important “wait-untils” that we were told should produce the projected revenue.
  • MONTH TO MONTH COMPARISON: For the eleven months of 2018 that correspond with the first eleven months of operation of the Casino in 2017 (February through December), GGR increased 10.5%, with all of the increase coming from Slots/ETG play, the most addictive form of casino gambling, and no increase in table games or poker table gambling.
  • ANNUAL COMPARISON: The gaming revenue for the full 52 weeks of 2018 was $152 million, compared to the $129 million GGR generated in the 47 weeks that Rivers Casino operated in 2017. Thus, with 5 extra weeks of operation, GGR was about 18% more than the $129 million of GGR from 2017, which was itself a 30% shortfall from the 2017 projection. More than half of the increase in 2018 GGR over 2017 was in fact due to the 5 extra weeks of operation.

. . Here are charts with those numbers: 

riverscasinoprojections

Projections – from Rivers Casino Application for gaming license (Item VIII.B.4, at 3)

riversrevscomparefeb-dec

update: Comparing the first twelve months of operation (Year One) with the second twelve months of operation (Year Two) at Rivers Casino, all growth in gambling revenue continues to be from Slots/ETG:

RiversRevs1stTwoYrs

How will the “Casino Gang” spin the 2018 GGR numbers? I’m betting the owners of the Casino [Rush Street Gaming] and Mohawk Harbor [the Galesi Group], and casino-affiliated businesses, plus elected and appointed officials, who have risked their reputations on casino results, will be merely touting a “significant” increase in gaming revenue over the 2017 results, with corresponding uptick in tax revenue. If you’ve been reading revenue comparisons reported at this website throughout 2018, you already know we are not exactly impressed with the Gaming Revenue situation at Rivers Casino, especially if this is what “stabilization” of operations at Rivers Casino looks like.

riversggr2018target A year ago this week, we analyzed the year-end numbers for Rivers Casino in a posting titled “Casino Projections vs. Casino Reality” (Jan. 7, 2018); the image at the head of this paragraph is a detail from a collage called The Rivers Casino Projection Game. It is difficult to feel any more optimistic a year later about the benefits to our community that will flow from Rivers Casino as compared with the risks our leaders took bringing it here. That is especially true when recalling that plans for Mohawk Harbor were well on their way before talk of a casino, and would have brought most of the benefits, more green-space, and maybe a downtown supermarket. Mohawk Harbor without a casino would have meant avoiding the increased risk of problem gambling and addiction, and DWI incidents; along with the dispiriting sight and sound of supine “snowman” leadership, and the disappointing failure to fulfill tax-relief promises, that have come with the Casino.

SlotsGrandmaBW The downsides seem no less daunting, including the ethically-bankrupt decision to use casino revenue as the source of tax relief (as a wag has put it: Robbing Grandma to pay our property taxes); and the downsizing of Schenectady’s image from Lighting and Hauling the World to home of a mediocre regional casino. The benefits seem scarcely worth the risks taken, especially since Mohawk Harbor and the rebirth of our downtown were already bringing most of those benefits without the downsides.

After reviewing the August 2018 revenue figures, we mused over the predictable Catch-22 our civic “leaders” and Casino Cheerleaders have thrust upon our Community. [There is a slightly edited version at the foot of this posting.*] Efforts to increase gaming revenue, especially gambling dollars from slots, threaten our most vulnerable community members. And, general efforts by Discover Schenectady and local leaders to increase non-gambling dollars spent at Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor, will benefit their owners, but bring in lower levels of tax payments (since sales taxes and food/beverages and entertainment and retail are so much lower than gaming revenue taxes).

Rush Street Gaming has a history of over-predicting its gambling revenue, and there is apparently little risk when it does so. Rivers Casino’s gaming business does not need to come even close to its projections to be profitable. And, sadly, even lower than predicted gaming revenue will not be likely to reduce problem gambling, when so many of the gambling dollars are generated by “slotsification“.

Nonetheless, a Civic Booster might ask: Aren’t the final numbers a reason to be optimistic? Isn’t the 17% increase in GGR at yearend 2018 over yearend 2017 truly significant? A Casino Realist might answer: Not, I am afraid, when you realize that there were 5 extra weeks of operation in 2018 than 2017. If 2017 had been a full 52-week year, and monthly average GGR remained the same, we would have expected about $142 million in GGR for 2017. The 2018 result of $152 million, is only 7% higher than the full-year estimate of $142 million GGR.

Continue reading

after 44 weeks all added revenues still from slots

 For the 44 weeks since the 1st Anniversary celebration began for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, gambling revenues at the Schenectady Casino have been up a mere 10.1% from the dismal take its first year. But, making the anemic results even more worrisome, the total increase has come from Slot machines, up 16.8%, with Table Games and Poker Table GGR both down over the first year. Click here for the Rivers Casino Weekly Revenue Reports.

RiversRevs-Compare-Feb-Nov

A Ten Percent increase is surely disappointing, now that the Casino has its long “wait until” list in place: Its own Landing Hotel; the Large River House apartment complex open and nearly full; the Marina attracting boaters, and its Amphitheater bringing thousands to free concerts; the popular Druther’s Brewery restaurant crowded, help from the Convention and Tourism Bureau, a large shopping-mall-style sign for Mohawk Harbor, and more.

A FLAT NOVEMBER. Also, the Rivers Casino numbers for November 2018 compared to November 2017 are not impressive and should be worrisome to our tax revenue bean counters, if they signal the likely results for the rest of the year:

Total GGR –  1% increase
Nov 2018   $11,434,584
Nov. 2017.  $11,326,616
SLOTS/ETG-  6.4% increase
Nov. 2018  $7,847,001.
Nov. 2017. $7,376,744
TABLE GAMES – 10.3% decrease
Nov.2018  $3,189,766.
Nov.2017.  $3,551,859

 

WPU/WPS PERFORMANCE? The Albany Times Union recently told us that Rivers Casino is “outperforming” its upstate commercial casino rivals. Rivers is clearly bringing in more gambling revenue per slot machine than either del Lago Casino at Tyre NY or Resorts World International at Monticello. Resorts World has about 1000 more slot machine than Rivers, and del Lago has 800 more. But, I am not sure how much weight to give to the Wins Per Unit or Wins Per Slot numbers presented by the TU as a measure of “performance” by the casino. Because I am not even close to being an expert in casino slot strategy, tactics or theory, I can only muse here, and be bemused. Naturally, I would appreciate hearing from experts on how to assess the situation. This is what the Times Union was told by Rivers Casino:

A Rivers spokesperson put out the following statement after the Times Union asked the casino to comment on what has helped the facility bring in revenue:  “We are very thankful for the support this year from our loyal guests,” read the statement attributed to Justin Moore, Rivers’ assistant general manager. “We continue to focus on providing a great guest experience every day.”

 

  • Wins Per Slot is “The amount of money left in a slot machine at day’s end”.  It is derived from looking at the Gross Credits played on a casino’s slot machines and subtracting the amount paid out; that figure is the Slots GGR for the covered period, which yields the Casino’s WPS when divided by the Number of Slot machines on the floor of the Casino.

TU, using NYS Gambling Commission numbers, says that Rivers Casino had a WPS of $236 for October 2018, compared to del Lago’s WPS of $166. [Resorts World’s operations are far from stabilized, so I am only comparing del Lago and Rivers here.]

 The Slots/ETG GGR total for each casino is “dollars in” minus dollars paid. Looking at the Slots GGR as a percentage of the Credits Played, it looks like Rivers’ is paying out 1.25¢ to 1.5¢ (1.25% to 1.5%) less than del Lago for each dollar of credit paid in.  For example, click on the screen shot compilation to the right, with monthly numbers from April through October 2018 for the two casinos. To wit:

  • Rivers Slots GGR is 8.60%, a 1.25% higher retention after payouts than del Lago’s 7.35%
  • 1.25% of the $728 million played on the slots during that period at Rivers is $9.1 million
  • There were 214 days in the period, or $418K extra left per day in the machines than if Rivers had used del Lago’s higher payout rate
  • Divided by 1150 slot machines, there is an extra $36 per day per unit
On the other hand, if del Lago had kept as much as Rivers, del Lago would have had about $11.7 million dollars more over the 7 months to ascribe to WPU. Divided by 214 days, that equals $546K, and divided by 1961 (the daily average of slot/ETG machines), is about $28 per day more per unit.
 
  • If each casino had used the other’s payout rate, their WPU’s would be a lot closer, but I am not certain what that would tell us about their “performance” as opposed to strategies for attracting players to their slot machines.

Nonetheless, I do wonder:

  1. Wouldn’t their “loyal customers” like to know that Rivers pays out 1.25% less for each dollar played at a Slot Machine than del Lago is paying?
  2. Is this a version of the Worst Case Scenario we casino opponents raised in 2014: Rivers is missing its gambling revenue projections by a significant amount. It is attracting lots of repeat local slots customers, raising the potential for increased gambling addiction and problem gambling in our community. AND, it is paying its loyal slots customers less per dollar played than its competitors.

By the way, if del Lago were to reduce the number of slot machines it has in use by 800, to increase its “performance” and offer the same number of slots as Rivers [1150], it would save $500 per machine in annual licensing fees, meaning the State would receive $400,000 less toward a fund to help fight problem gambling. By starting with the lower number of slot machines, Rivers has saved itself $500 per machine in licensing fees.

Who botched placement of the ALCO Heritage Trail signs?

Schenectady County spent $30,000 for a set of “interpretive” signs that were installed along the ALCO Heritage Trail about six weeks ago. They celebrate the proud history of the site as location of the American Locomotive Company, where world-class locomotives and tanks were manufactured for over a century. [See County Press Release (Sept. 18, 2018); Daily Gazette article, and Times Union coverage (Sept. 20, 2018)]

IMG_9190 . . IMG_9193

But, even a casual look at the placement of the sturdy and wordy signs reveals that they are too close to the bike-hike trail, creating a hazard for anyone stopping to read the lengthy messages, and for bicyclists and pedestrians on the Trail. For example,

  • DSCF4280Neither the required 3-foot lateral clearance from a shared-use path stated in Schenectady’s Bike Master Plans (see below), much less the preferred distance of 3 to 5 feet, has been allotted for the large interpretive signs. The Best Practices rule of thumb of 3-5′ applies even to small  signs on single, narrow poles, to help ensure that a cyclist or pedestrian who must swerve off a path in an emergency or panic, has room to maneuver to safety. Instead, the frames of the ALCO Heritage signs are as little 28 inches from the bike-hike path.
  •  Whether a reader is alone, or part of a couple, family or group, the only place from which to read each of the 11 signs is from the shared-use Trail, placing them in the way of cyclists, runners, and all types of pedestrians passing by in both directions. The more successful the Trail is attracting users and tourists, the more frequently will conflicts arise.
  • There is no hard surface off the path “tread” for sign-readers in a wheelchair, or with a cane, walker or motorized scooter, to stop; nor for a curious bicyclist; nor for pedestrians who want to avoid unpaved ground around the sign when it is wet, slippery, or muddy.

 

 . . alcotrailsignreaders.jpg
DSCF4252

Members of the public without planning and engineering degrees (and, surely, even a group of visiting fourth-graders) can immediately see or sense that the ALCO Heritage signs are poorly placed. Why, then, would the County and City of Schenectady, which have been planning and promoting the use of bike and hike trails since before the dawning of the Third Millennium, permit this sub-par (and liability-creating) installation?  Good question.

ALCOSigns-McQueen-Hughes-Gaz [R] A new sign is unveiled byGary Hughes, Majority Leader of the County Legislature and Chair of its Economic Planning and Development Committee, and Joe McQueen, Spokesman for the County (Sept. 20, 2018). Photo by Marc Schultz for the Daily Gazette.

 

BikeSchyAdvisoryCmte . . SchdyBike2001-steering

. . above: [R] Steering Committee for the City of Schenectady Bike Master Plan (2001); and [L] and Advisory Panel of Bike Schenectady Master Plan (2017). Click on image for a larger version.

The County and City both were well-represented on the two Bike Master Plans produced and adopted by the City of Schenectady since the turn of the Century, one in 2001, and one just last year, the Bike Schenectady Master Plan, 2017. [See the lists in the images above this paragraph.] Both Master Plans call for a lateral clearance of at least 3 feet from the edge of the path for any signs along a shared-use path in the City of Schenectady (even small ones on skinny poles). And, of course, in both plans, a shared-use path along the Mohawk at the old ALCO site was seen as the crowning jewel of the system. Click on the images immediately below to see relevant portions of [L] the 2001 Bike Master Plan; and [R] Bike Schenectady (p. B-21 of the Appendices):

MUTCDshareduse . . BikeSchdy-TrailClearance

  • The American Trails organization also recommends a 3-foot clearance; as does, e.g., the Florida DOT: “3 feet or more desirable (clearance from trees, poles, walls, fences, guardrails, etc.)”.

But, is there any other reason, besides Common Sense safety and convenience concerns, for insisting that those viewing a trail-side interpretive sign be allowed to stand or sit off the trail? The Erie County Wayfinding Manual is a useful guide on many of the issues that arise in planning and implementing a bike-hike trail. It offers the thoughtful guidance that signage formats be “designed around the information they need to convey”, and thus (at 4, emphasis added):

Detailed orientation information, for instance, is placed on large signs where people can pull off the trail and spend as much time as they wish to study made, legends or interpretive information.

It is hard to believe that County and City planning staff members who have been active in municipal bicycle matters are not aware of the notion that interpretive signs be placed in a way that lets interested persons safely study them off the path, on a hard surface. Indeed, only two months ago, the County‘s study for a portion of this very ALCO Heritage Trail, MOHAWK HUDSON BIKE TRAIL EXTENSION FEASIBILITY REPORT (Sept. 14, 2018, at 22), included the following illustration, captioned “Example of wayfaring or interpretive signs”:

MHBTFReport-SignageImage . . MHBTFReport-signagepage

. . shorter URL for the Sept. 2018 Extension Feasibility Report: https://tinyurl.com/ALCOTrailExtend

IMG_9200This past Sunday (Nov. 4, 2018), while standing at the sign shown to the right and speaking to the couple in the photo, speedo-clad bicyclists twice rode quickly past us, appearing from the west, and in no way signaled their presence or their passing us on the left. Over the entire past year walking on the Mohawk Harbor trail and on the only paved path at Riverside Park, only one bicyclist passing me gave the required signal, with the silent ones leaving me startled and often off-balance. If nothing else, the customary behavior of individuals and groups using our trails, along with the lack of enforcement of safety rules, must be taken into account when designing and installing signage.

  • img_9186.jpg My web search could not be exhaustive, but the examples of interpretive signage closer than three feet from a trail that I found, and that were shaped like most of the ALCO Heritage Trail signage (example on the left), were on pedestrian or hiking trails, not trails that were meant to accommodate bicyclists (or horses).

If the experienced and professional staff members in planning and related offices of the County and City are aware of the 3-foot clearance rule and the preference for getting sign-readers off the path, why was the ALCO Heritage Trail signage project so poorly designed? I can only presume that their advice was silenced or over-ridden by people with more authority, who lacked knowledge of the regulation or best practices, and never bothered to ask fundamental questions. Or, who had priorities other than the safety and convenience of trail users, such as using as little of the developer’s or Casino’s lawn next to the path as possible, or spending as little money as possible.

RayGillen-tireless When I wrote to Metroplex Chair, and County Planning/Development Chief, Ray Gillen, to ask why the signs were so close to the Trail, his only reply on that issue was, “We all think they are beautiful.”  Ray Gillen, is known as tireless and working 24/7, and always tells me I should come first to him with concerns. Perhaps others will be more successful than I getting a useful explanation from Mr. Gillen. Maybe, asking Legislator Gary Hughes or Anthony Jasenski, Legislative Chair, would be more useful. My attempts to get answers from City and County leaders have been fruitless, which usually means they know I will not likely like the answer or consider it to be persuasive.

DSCF4279My hope is that members of the media and general public who care about public safety and transparency, and the rule of law, will probe a bit more. And, do so before the first serious injury along the Harbor Trail, and any related law suit.

Mohawk Harbor was meant to be, and is constantly touted as, the City’s showplace and pride. Yet, the Mohawk Harbor bike-hike trail has been constructed (somehow, at the expense of taxpayers rather than the developer) with little regard for public safety and comfort. Both the history signs on the south/Casino side of the trail, and the guardrails on the riverside of the trail, ignore the City’s codes, policies and plans, as well as best practice guidelines that seem particularly appropriate for our “showplace” Harbor.

. . share this post with this shorter URLhttps://tinyurl.com/UnsafeAlcoSigns

DSCF4232

Rivers Casino table games revenue still down from 2017

gaminglessonsad Despite sponsoring Gaming Lessons last September (see image to right), and having a rather good Table Games month in October 2018, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor has still taken in less revenue from Table Games in the nine months since its first anniversary in February 2018, than it did in the same months of 2017, after its opening.  This is, of course, the flip side of the “slotsification” trend we have been reporting on here the past several months: The almost 11% increase in revenues at Rivers Casino over the same period last year is totally accounted for by an increase in Slots/ETG revenue of over 18%, with both table games and poker table revenue down. [Click for the Rivers’ Weekly Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) figures submitted to the Gaming Commission.] Here’s a chart showing aggregate numbers for the first nine months of operation of Rivers Casino in Schenectady, which began in February 2017, alongside the figures for the same nine months in 2018:

 CasinoRevCompared-Feb-Oct

We Repeat our Main Concern: Slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling, and draw many of the most vulnerable members of our community. As disappointing as the measly 1% reduction in property tax rates may be for 2019 (see Times Union article dated Oct. 26, 2018), the budget antics that brought any decrease at all due to Casino gaming tax revenues, are primarily bought with the Slots dollars spent by our grandmothers and neighbors who probably can least afford to gamble at Rivers Casino. The High Rollers are not flying in regularly to help reduce your taxes.

SlotsGrandmaBW. . Thank you, Dearie, for the tiny tax cut; but, you better try harder! . . 

Slots have been up elsewhere across the nation, but at nowhere near the percentage increase that we have seen all year along the Mohawk. Despite that, neither the City nor County of Schenectady has budgeted any funds for problem gambling education and prevention in 2019.  And, neither government seems to want to look into, much less talk about, the dollars sucked out of other local businesses as crowds are lured to events at Mohawk Harbor.

poorly planned safety railing erected along Mohawk Harbor trail

 mhtrail29octa1 update (Oct. 29, 2018):  With no help from City Hall or the County to delay the installation, the fence is finished, without the needed improvements. . . It is too close to the Path [should be 3′ clearance or more, not 2′], too short [should be 54 inches high, not 42″], and has no rub rail to protect bicyclists. There is adequate space for the preferred 3- to 5-foot buffer, but the installers were instructed to use a 2-foot buffer. The public was never given the chance to raise the issues and the regulators apparently never bothered. See discussion below.

MHTrail29OctD. .  photo to the right shows: 2-foot buffer between Path and guardrail/fence, and sufficient space on the riverbank side to widen the buffer for the safety of all path users and those who come merely to watch the River.

MHTrail29OctC . . MHTrail29OctB

ALCOTrailWestEnd . . westendwall-buffer . . at the west end of the Mohawk Harbor trail, the new fence along the riverbank has only a 24″ buffer from the edge of the path; while the wall on the other side of the path has a much safer 50″ inch buffer. 

. . above photos taken October 29, 2018 . . 

ORIGINAL POST . . October 15, 2018

“poorly planned safety railing going up along Mohawk Harbor trail”

IMG_8948

orangesafetyconeBelow is an email message that I sent today (October 15, 2018) to Christine Primiano, the City of Schenectady’s Chief Staff Planner. It outlines why I believe we must halt the installation of a railing/fence along the riverside of the ALCO Heritage Trail in Mohawk Harbor, and seek to achieve a better, safer guardrail. The 42″ high guardrail is being installed only two feet from the paved edge of the Hike-Bike Trail.  Best practices for shared-use paths and relevant regulations call for a 3-foot buffer (including the Bike Schenectady Master Plan adopted just last year). A taller guardrail, with a rub rail, is also needed. Following the regulations and guidelines can help increase the likelihood that hikers, cyclists, tourists and other visitors will avoid injury along the Mohawk Harbor trail and guardrail, and reduce liability exposure by the City and County.

[update (Nov. 5): I have received no reply from the Planning Office, nor Corporation Counsel, nor any other City or County official on these issues. When I visited the Trail on October 14, the fence was only 220′ long, with no cables; when I visited it on Friday, October 19, the guardrail installation had continued, extending at that time almost to the east end of the Landing Hotel, but still without the cable strung.]

IMG_8953 . . ALCOtrailFence2

From: David Giacalone
Subject: the Mohawk Harbor trail railing is not safe enough
Date: October 15, 2018 at 11:55:10 AM EDT
To: CHRISTINE PRIMIANO, Chief Planner, cprimiano@schenectadyny.gov
Cc: meidens@schenectadyny.gov, cfalotico@schenectadyny.gov, RGillen@schenectadymetroplex.org

Hello, Christine,

A guardrail is finally being erected between the steep riprap riverbank and ALCO Heritage Trail at Mohawk Harbor. For that I am grateful. But, there are so many ways a guardrail should and could have better protected cyclists, hikers, tourists, and River-watchers (including those in wheelchairs), that I wish there could have been an opportunity for comment by experts and the public.

Given that this is the end of the hike-bike season, and safety cones or caution tape could readily be used to line the top of the steep slope, I believe we should halt the current installation, which as of yesterday, was only about 220’ long, with no cable strung, and then decide how to do it in a way that is more appropriate from a safety point of view for all likely users. 

  • IMG_8956 Note, the fence being installed is taller than, but otherwise the same style and materials as the fencing along the Casino and Landing Hotel patios.
  • the first (gray) photo-collage below has shots taken on October 11 of the fencing; the last photo was taken yesterday, from the east end of Riverside Park
  • the second (green) photo-collage below demonstrates why I have been arguing that a safety rail is needed. A fuller discussion of those issues can be found at http://tinyurl.com/HarborTrailSafety


Was the design of this fence and its placement submitted to your Office for review? Did anyone have the opportunity to remind the County or Metroplex that the Bike Schenectady Master Plan states, in the Shared Use Path guidance section (p. B-21 of the Appendices):

“A 2 foot or greater shoulder on both sides of the path should be provided. An additional foot of lateral clearance (total of 3’) is required by the MUTCD for the installation of signage or other furnishings.”


BikeSchdy-TrailClearanceI hope no one in authority will try to argue that a fence 3/4 of a mile long is not a furnishing and not as troublesome as a sign post in presenting a hazard to trail users. A screen shot of the BikeSchenectady page is inserted to the right (click on it for a larger image]; also, click here to see a relevant page from Schenectady’s 2001 Master Bike Plan (mandating a three-foot clearance to obstacles); and a useful page from the Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail Master Plan. , which explains (at 29, emphases added):

Railings

Railings are generally used to protect trail users from steep gradients located close to the edge of the trail. A general landscape guideline from the NYS Building Code is that if there is a sheer drop of 18” or greater then a railing should be provided. In New York State, all railings along bike paths should be 54” high. While there are no specific warrants for providing safety railings where steep slopes are adjacent to a trail, the NYS Highway Design Manual does indicate (Figure 18-16 Safety Railings Along Bicycle and Multi-Use Paths) that a 54” high (1.4 meter) safety rail be provided when a significant slope is closer than 5’ from the trail edge. Sound professional judgement should be used to assess whether the slope gradient, vertical drop or dangerous obstacles on the slope (trees, poles, concrete structures, etc.) warrant the installation of a safety rail.

IMG_8946 On Friday, the supervisor of the fence/rail installation firm (Access Anvil Corp.) told me that there was no obstacle to putting the structure three feet from the trail edge, but his specs called for two-feet. Of course, in many places along the slope, there is room for the railing to be the 3-5 feet that many studies and regulatory bodies have said is preferred for the shoulder. That would allow bikes or pedestrians making evasive moves a safer landing, and permit groups of river-watchers (and those in wheelchairs) to enjoy the River without worrying about hanging over or inadvertently stepping back onto the Trail.

For such an important location and project, we need a real discussion of how to do it right. For example, shouldn’t there be a “rub rail” so that handlebars do not catch on the rail? The main “silver” portion being installed is 42” high; the “black” section on the western end is apparently 5’ high. Why isn’t the entire railing 54” high? Would such a long railing/fence be aesthetically more pleasing if it were at different heights and distances from the trail edge? Etc., etc. I don’t know the answers, but I do know a discussion might have produced useful answers and maybe a consensus.

Before more of the railing is installed, let’s pause and decide that Mohawk Harbor and the people using it deserve as good a safety rail as best practices can achieve.

Thank you for your time and review of these important issues.

David

 P.S. I still have never been given an explanation for the failure to follow the C-3 zoning requirement that there be the customary two-foot shoulder PLUS ten additional feet buffer on the riverside of the Mohawk Harbor shared-used path. Nor, do I understand why the April 2015 trail submission, posted by the County as Riverside Trail Map, showing 10’ of mulched and planted shoulder between the trail and the steep riverbank was not followed, and we instead have a shoulder of 4 to 7 feet, covered in unstable gravel. [annotated detail from plat inserted at right of this p.s. blurb]

ALCOTrailFence11Oct

IMG_8987

ALCOTrailSafety

complaintbill In addition to the points made in the email to the Planning Office, I continue to wonder why taxpayers are paying 90% of the cost of constructing the bike-hike trail, and for the guardrail, when the Schenectady Zoning Code for the Harbor District [C-3, §264-14(1)E(4)] says that: “A single multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail shall be constructed by the applicant.” “Applicant” refers to the developer or owner of the harbor property.

more doldrums after River Casino’s best week & month

.  .it’s back to Doldrums Along the Mohawk . . 

As the Daily Gazette reported on September 9th, the week ending September 2, 2018 was the best week in the history of Rivers Casino for generating gambling revenue, with the first $4 million GGR at the Casino. In addition, August 2018 was the best single month yet at the Mohawk Harbor casino.  [See “Rivers has best month ever but loses top spot among N.Y. casinos: Schenectady casino grosses $14.4 million but new Catskills gambling destination tops it with $15 million” (Daily Gazette, by John Cropley, September 9, 2018)]

But, even a Best Month and Best Week should not make Government tax-counters and citizen taxpayers particularly optimistic. As reporter John Cropley noted:

The monthly numbers do not, by themselves, indicate a trend. Annual or year-to-date figures are better for drawing such conclusions.

So far in 2018, Rivers is averaging $12.94 million a month in gross gaming revenue and $219,131 a month in tax payments to Schenectady.

For 2017, it averaged $11.66 million per month in gross gaming revenue and sent an average of $189,136 in taxes to Schenectady.

`Those numbers demonstrate a 10% growth in average monthly Gross Gambling Revenue at Rivers Casino Schenectady. As we have argued before, 10% more than last year’s 30% shortfall from Rush Street Gaming’s projections for the first year of operation at its Schenectady Casino is not exactly an impressive turn-around. That is especially true when we consider that Rivers Casino has achieved or experienced virtually its entire “Wait Until We Have” List. – – from the opening of its Landing Hotel, to a year of rentals at its 200-unit River House apartments, to thousands coming to Harbor Jamboree concerts, and much more.

Beyond the fiscal doldrums, despite one very big Table Game week at the end of August, we fear the Slotsification Undertow. For the seven months since Rivers Casino’s 1st Anniversary, February through August,

  • Total GGR increased 10.6% over the same months in 2017
  • But, both Table Game and Poker GGR are down (respectively, down 3.4% and 9.0%)
  • While GGR from Slots/ETG has increased 19.1%

Increased revenues from Slots undoubtedly means an increase in Problem Gambling and gambling addiction in our community, with all of the damage to the gamblers, their families and friends, and our entire society. That added hazard for Schenectady is especially true if slots players are predominately local residents.

As we wrote last month:

AddictionByDesign-Schüll-CoverRev The New York Times article cited above, Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict(October 10, 2013), gives a good explanation of how/why slots are so addictive. It was written by Natasha Dow Schüll, and anthropologist and the author of Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas”(Princeton University Press, 2013).

The Week After Labor Day: One last reason for City and County leaders to show restraint in counting unhatched gambling tax eggs: Although week-to-week comparisons can be tricky, the week after Labor Day appears to have many unique characteristics for the American workforce and families. Here is how that Week after Labor Day, the first full week of September at Rivers Casino, compared to the cognate week for 2017:

Compared to the week ending 9/10/17, the week ending 9/9/18 at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor saw:

  • Only a 2.6% increase in total GGR
  • A reduction of 21.4% in Table Game GGR
  • A reduction of 10.9% in Poker Table GGR
  • An increase in Slots/ETG GGR of 11.7%

August continues Casino tilt to Slots

In the seven months since its 1st Anniversary celebration in February, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady has seen an underwhelming increase of 10% in its Total Gross Gambling Revenue compared to the first seven months of the Casino’s operation. Frankly, considering Rivers only taking in about 70% of its first-year revenue projection, and the coming into existence of so many of its “wait-untils,” a ten percent increase is simply not all that impressive.

RiversRevCompareAug Moreover, after tabulating the numbers for the first four weeks of August 2018, it is clear that the “slotsification” we worried about last month continues.  Slots/ETG revenue is up 19.7% from February through August, but both Table Game and Poker Game revenues are down compared to the same months in 2017. Therefore, the vaunted increase at Schenectady’s Casino continues to be all from Slots — all from the most addictive and victimizing form of casino gambling.

. . share this post with the URL: https://tinyurl.com/SlotsTilt

 Here are the number totals for February to August 2018: HotSlotsFacade

RiversRevs-Feb-Aug

  • 68.7%: Slots/ETG were 63.2% of the Total Gross Gambling Revenues at Rivers Casino in its first 7 months of operation (Feb. to August of 2017). That percentage has increased to 68.7% of Total GGR for the same months of 2018, the first seven months of the second year of operation of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.

We are, therefore, in the very Catch-22 situation that any thinking person (especially those not hoping to cash in on the coming of a casino to Schenectady, or any urban location), and any thoughtful politician or leader (especially those realistically looking after the interests of the entire community) would have foreseen and avoided when the Casino-In-Schenectady process started in 2014.

  1. Catch22logo Revenues will never reach the levels that were used to justify the risks to the community from an urban casino.
  2. Attempting to increase the revenue levels at the Casino will almost certainly increase the social cost, including increasing the incidence of problem gambling, and especially increasing slots revenue.
  3. Politicians, like Ass. Phil Steck (“from Mohawk Harbor”), will suggest tax breaks for the Casino owners and developer, that will actually reduce the amount received by the State, City and County, and increase profits for the Casino Gang, which does not need to meet its phony projections to reap a profit.
  4. No significant efforts will be made to bring the community the kinds of Problem Gambling Education and Prevention efforts that might ameliorate the social pain that is and will be generated by a casino in our midst, because the State and City do not want to lose the gambling tax revenues and the Casino does not want to prevent the evolution of more and more problem gamblers, who fuel their profits.
  5. Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor efforts aimed at Millennials, who prefer drink (esp. craft beer), food, and live entertainment to gambling, will aid the bottom line of the Casino Gang, without a corresponding increase in revenue to the State or municipalities.

Slotsification on the Mohawk

SmokinHotSlotsB

a Smoking Patio with slots & drinks means non-stop slots play!!

The lower-than-projected total of gambling dollars and customers brought in by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in its first year of operation disappointed just about everybody. (See, e.g., our post on Projections vs. Reality.) So, it is understandable that the increase so far this year in Gross Gambling Revenue [the amount bet minus winnings paid out, called “GGR”] has been broadly welcomed in our community. Nonetheless, Sara Foss at the Schenectady Gazette was correct to voice concerns last Sunday about the significant increase of gambling revenues this year earned from Slots and other Electronic Table Games [ETG]. See “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018).  That is because the clear consensus of experts and observers is that slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling.

emptyPockets Indeed, from the perspective of potential social costs and harm to gamblers and their families, the situation is very serious. I’ve tabulated the numbers, and it is clear that additional revenue from SLOTS/ETG (Electronic Table Games) is alone fueling the increased gambling revenue at Rivers Casino in its 2nd year of operation. I call this process “Slotsification”.

RiversSlots Below is a comparison of the first six months in which Schenectady’s Rivers Casino was operating [Feb. to July of 2017] with the same six months in 2018, after one full year of operation. I used the most recent Monthly report posted at the Gaming Commission’s site, and the Casino’s weekly reports.
.
.
FEBRUARY to JULY 2018 – Gross Gambling Revenue [GGR] at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (Schenectady), compared to February to July 2017, the first six months of operation at Rivers Casino:
 
TOTAL GGR – 9.7% increase [$6,830,160]
    2017 Feb-July            $70,080,214
    2018 Feb-July            $76,910,374 
.
SLOTS/ETG GGR – 19.3% increase [$8,510,139]
    2017 Feb-July            $44,054,616
    2018 Feb-July            $52,564,755 
.
TABLE GAME GGR – – down 6.0% [$1,297,613]
   2017 Feb-July             $22,886,161
   2018 Feb-July             $21,588,548 
 .
POKER TABLE GGR – – down 11.7% [$368,091]
   2017 Feb-July            $3,145,137
   2018 Feb-July             $2,777,046 
 .
In sum, Total GGR is up almost 10% at Rivers Casino, with Slots/ETG revenue up 19.3%, but both Table Game and Poker Game GRR down compared to the same months in 2017. The increase is all from Slots.
.
In addition, looked at in the aggregate, Slots/ETG revenues were 63% of GGR in Feb-July of 2017; but they were 68% of GGR in Feb-July of 2018. It would be helpful to know whether more people are choosing to play slots, or whether slots players are playing longer.
.
 follow-up (February 9, 2019): The figures for the full 12 months of February 2018 to January 2019, Rivers Casino’s 2nd year of operation, continue the Slotsification process. Total GGR was up 9.25%, with Slots up 14.7%, but Table Game and Poker Table revenues down slightly over the first 12 months of operation at Rivers Casino. (Click on this chart for a larger version.)
.
RiversRevs1stTwoYrs
.
Furthermore, for the full year since the 1st Anniversary of Rivers Casino, Slots/ETG revenues were 68% of the Total GRR for the Casino.
.
  • AddictionByDesign-Schüll-CoverIt may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict(New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll). 
 
Compare other Casinos: Although Slots revenue is up somewhat in Las Vegas recently, slots have been down or sluggish in other regions. Notably, not one of Rush Street’s three other casinos (one in Illinois at Des Plaines; and two in Pennsylvania, SugarHouse in Philadelphia, and Pittsburg Rivers) has had more than a small uptick in slots this year, and many months have been down. [Click for an example of recent Pa. stats; the Des Plaines IL Rivers Casino shows only a 1.32% increase in their slots category (“EGD”) for the first half of 2018; see p. 4 of this Report.]
 
Is Rivers Casino in Schenectady trying to “slotsify” its casino revenue, to maximize its profits? Is this also a result of growing problem gambling among Schenectady’s slots players, along with a growing indifference by those who like table games to spending time along the Mohawk?
.
  • What about Millennials? Has Rivers also decided to make more money by luring in millennials, who spend on food, drink and entertainment, rather than on gambling when at Mohawk Harbor? That helps Rush Street and Galesi Group profits, but does not increase gambling tax revenue receipts for the City and County. [See the article on Millennials and Casinos quoted at length below.] The Casino does not have to reach its bloated projections to be a business success. 
 
Whatever the cause, Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.
.

AssPhilSteck Will community leaders such as NYS Assemblyman Phil Steck, who say we must help the Casino succeed, turn a blind eye to the added hazard to our Community? Steck, who we’ve been calling “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” since his letter in support of Rivers Casino in June 2014, recently wrote that “Revenue raising is paramount”, after bemoaning the negative effect on the poor and vulnerable. This is, of course, the dilemma casino opponents saw when they opposed bringing one to Schenectady. The monograph “Poverty and Casino Gambling in Buffalo” (Center for the Public Good, by Sam Magavern and Elaina Mulé, January 19, 2011, gives a good summary of the dangers for already-struggling cities that turn to casinos for revenue. And, it highlights the obvious:

“any trend away from slot machines, which are the most lucrative form of casino gambling, would hurt the state’s revenues from casinos. [quoting Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission]

And, consider “State Gambling Revenue Takes Hit as Millennials Bring New Habits to Casinos” (Pew Trust, Stateline Article, by Elaine S. Povich, Sept. 15, 2015), which opens with this statement:

Casinos across the nation are suffering from a generation gap, especially at the slot machines, as young people seek more exotic electronic games like the ones they can play on smartphones from anywhere.

That’s a problem not just for casino operators, but for the 23 states that rely on revenue from casino taxes, particularly from lucrative slots, to help balance their budgets and fund new priorities.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

see-no-evil-monkeyBlue It is easy to be flippant and say, “Don’t ask Casino Opponents, we told you so,” back when our elected and appointed political leaders, and businesses hoping for a Casino Gravy Train, refused to even acknowledge the risks. Well, we did tell you so (e.g., this post), precisely because we feared just this situation: Big Problems without Palatable Solutions. No Answers for getting out of the Casino Casualty Syndrome and the related suffering of families and individuals; lots of temptation to seek more favors for the Casino, such as legislation with tax reductions or gimmicks (such as a marketing allowance), or spending $2 million on a Large Vessel Dock along Mohaw Harbor; plus, a lot of uncertainty and pain for employees at the Casino and associated businesses, if the Casino declines slowly, and especially if it fails and closes.

316-vector-no-evil-monkeys Even if they secretly know the damage that is likely to happen to our Community, the temptation for our “leaders” to push on is great, refusing to confess their short-sighted mistakes, pressuring local businesses and civic groups to patronize Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and looking for legislative “solutions.” One thing for sure, the cognitive dissonance that we hear from politicians like Phil Steck does not help one bit. The Assemblyman tells us:

Perhaps some day there will be no casino at Mohawk Harbor. No one can predict the future; it is sensible to plan for an alternative. But, Rivers is here, so we need it to be as successful as possible. One constituent wrote to me on this subject citing the old adage: “Let’s take the lemons and make them into lemonade.”

LemonLawLogo No one should be surprised that the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor offers us no Lemonade Recipe and suggests no likely ingredients for the mix (other than a “not-a-bailout” tax break in the form of a marketing allowance that is too silly to even call specious). There is no secret, magical “sugar” to sweeten our Casino Lemons, and no law that will tow the wreck away. We are all left puckering up, and wincing, as the future rushes toward Slotsnectady, a City that once could Light and Haul the World, but now glories in “smart” lamp-posts, its homely-but-bossy Casino, and its beer-cultured Renaissance.

. . share this post with this short URLhttps://tinyurl.com/Slotsification

. . this is one of the mastheads we used when this website was called StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com:

noalcocasino-mastb1

. . they gambled with Schenectady’s future, putting possible revenues ahead of the social costs, and acting as if there was nothing to lose . .

Appendix: Why are Slots so Addictive?

Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

. . share this posting with this short URLhttps://tinyurl.com/MohawkDoldrums

questiondudequestionmarkkeyRed Moreover, revenue so far in for the full month of July 2018 was down 3.3% over July 2017, despite Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor having achieved/installed virtually all of the “wait-until” features that we were told will stabilize and generate the projected revenue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slots

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

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

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

For most people, playing the slots is harmless entertainment.

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

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

Tellingly, Sara Foss says (emphasis added):

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

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

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

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

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

disbelief-foreheadsmack

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

the Large Vessel Dock at Mohawk Harbor

LargeDockView2

. . NOTE (Jan. 16, 2020): This issue is on our front-burner again, because Metroplex, Schenectady City Hall, and the Schenectady Downtown Revitalization Program are discussing the installation at public expense of a large vessel dock for Mohawk Harbor, and selling it as a “public access dock.” See the Follow-up discussion at the bottom of this posting.

original posting:

 A Gazette article today reports that the City Council of Schenectady unanimously approved a Resolution authorizing the Mayor to seek State funding for a Large Vessel Dock along Mohawk Harbor. “City to apply for funding for new dock at Mohawk Harbor: The dock would be used for larger boats to dock at the harbor” (by Andrew Beame, July 24, 2018) The article tells us that:

The resolution allows the city to work with Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority to submit the application [to the state Regional Economic Development Council].  Ray Gillen, chairman of the authority, said the grant would cover 80 percent of the cost to construct the $2 million dock.

The Galesi Group, the developer of the harbor, would be donating the rest, Gillen said.

Gillen said the dock would be 680 feet long and 12 feet wide. He also said it would be able to be removed during the winter months.

In addition, “The project would allow for larger boats that pass by the harbor to dock there, visit the casino, tour the city and a host of other activities.” Mr. Gillen noted that the facility would also allow the city to host regattas and other rowing events.

“This will be a public amenity,” Gillen said. “If we get the grant, it assures total public access to the riverfront.” (emphasis added)

As a longtime advocate for true public access to the riverfront, I hope this project will help achieve that goal. I may be adding more information in the very near future, but especially wanted to get online for public review of the two renderings (one above and one immediately below) of the Large dock presented by Ray Gillen to the City Council Committee meeting on July 16, 2018.

LargeDockView1

As the Council Resolution mentions a Matching Grant, I asked for more detail, and Mr. Gillen wrote me that:

“The match is 15%.  The state proves 85% if we win the grant. The match is being donated by the developer.  The developer built the amphitheater and major sections of the trail and the marina at their cost with no public support.  These are all very nice and well used public amenities.”

  • My thanks to Ray Gillen for providing me with the two renderings above. Our “Smart City’s” City Hall should have provided them in the Agenda appendix, making use of its website’s Agenda page. Council member Vince Riggi was good enough to send me a link to the video of Gillen’s presentation made to the Council Committee on July 16. It is very difficult to see details from the picture at the Committee Meeting. See my best screen shot of it (at about 2:30 into the video) here: https://tinyurl.com/MHLargeDock.

largedockkid The funding process, and any resultant construction, will take quite awhile, and I hope that lots of thought will be given to how such a dock can in fact be used by the public, including families with children and dogs, or the elderly, handicapped, and less mobile, in a safe manner. For example:

    1. If the dock is successful — that is, busy — how welcome will non-boating members of the public be? How visible will the River be behind large vessels?
    2. How will the dock be supervised? The proposed dock at Riverside Park several years back was to have no supervision.
      1. Will folks with bikes or skateboards take them from the Trail to the dock? Would visitors in normal leisure or business footwear be able to navigate a wet dock?
      2. Would you feel comfortable bringing small children or elderly relatives, or a school class to a 12′-wide dock, with water on both sides, and no railings. How easy will it be to get these folks safely back up that long sloping ramp?
      3. Don’t safety issues at marinasviz., dock users unintentionally falling into the water and drowning — suggest that a Large Vessel Dock could safely accommodate no more than a small number of non-boating, casual “users” at a time? Required safety ladders and life rings seem unlikely to provide adequate assurance of appropriate use. 
    3. Will there be pedestrian access after dark? What lessons can we take from the drunken beer parties that took place for years at the Gateway Landing dock late at night?  Would a large vessel dock be a magnet for inebriated customers at the various Mohawk Harbor establishments, or those attending Amphitheater events in the thousands?
    4. casino-attg-landscapeDetWhat happened to the Site Plan approved by the Planning Commission, in which a pedestrian bridge from the Trail went to a quiet Overlook that would allow safe viewing of the River, close-up, but with a railing for safety? Wouldn’t the 600-foot dock preclude such an amenity for public use.

It is disconcerting that another Resolution impacting Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino was brought before the Council in what has now become a customary rush. The State proposal requests and development decisions are made annually, with submission deadlines this time of year. The fact that this was “merely” permission to submit a proposal should not have justified a lack of fuller discussion, with public viewing of the images prior to the Council vote.

As happened with the proposal for a dock at Riverside Park in 2010 (see the discussion of issues and concerns in our comprehensive posting), we need to ensure that the availability of State funding — Getting Something For Free, with no local dollars spent — does not preempt thoughtful consideration of the impact of the Large Vessel Dock on waterfront use at Mohawk Harbor. And, especially on its ability to achieve, as Mr. Gillen promises, “total public access to the riverfront.”

redflag-circlefollow-up (January 16, 2020): Should taxpayers or the developer of Mohawk Harbor and the Rivers Casino pay for a large-vessel dock at Mohawk Harbor? Please consider:

The image below was submitted to the Gaming Commission Location Board with Rush Street and Galesi Group’s application for a gaming license at Mohawk Harbor. As was required in the then-existing Schenectady Waterfront zoning provisions, it shows a riverbank that would allow the public convenient and safe access to the waterfront, with space for safe strolling, sitting, picnicking, etc.

CasinoRiverbankRendering

The Casino Applicants demanded that the permanent public right to access and enjoyment of the waterfront be removed from our zoning Code, and our subservient leaders readily acquiesced. As a result, a steep, inaccessible, riprap riverbank was constructed by Mohawk Harbor along the last remaining portion of Schenectady riverbank available for potential increase in public access to the river:

MHriverbank

mhtrail29octd

  • See our posting “Restore riverfront public access at the casino” (August 10, 2015) for the story of how the people of Schenectady lost their right to use and enjoy the Mohawk Harbor waterfront, and the importance of true public access when a city’s scarce riverbank properties are re-developed.
    • Also, due to the great deference given to the desires of the Casino and Galesi Group by Schenectady’s Planning office and Metroplex, the public has also been deprived of recommended safety elements along the ALCO bike-ped path, with taxpayer moneys used for construction that would more appropriately have been provided by the Developer. See, e.g., “Poorly planned safety-fence going up along Mohawk Harbor trail.”
  • largedockkidHaving taken away our public access to the waterfront, Mohawk Harbor, Metroplex and City Hall apparently want us to believe that building a giant large-vessel dock with public moneys will somehow provide the public with the waterfront access they were denied. See the renderings at the top of this posting and decide whether such a structure could provide meaningful, safe, convenient access to the waterfront for the many sorts of people who comprise our public (local and visitors), and the many activities usually enjoyed along a lovely riverbank.
    • At the January 16, 2020 Schenectady DRI public workshop, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen asked me to contact him to talk about my concerns over the Dock, and I will do so. I was surprised to hear Ray say they have not yet designed the dock and that the renderings submitted to City Council in 2018 were simply conceptual examples. When considering who should pay for it, the question is whether any huge Dock, open on both sides, could accommodate meaningful public access, and whether installing such a structure will prevent other attempts at meaningful public access.

In deciding whether taxpayers should provide a $2 million large vessel dock for Mohawk Harbor, rather than requiring Mohawk Harbor’s owners to pay for the amenity, we hope opinion- and decision-makers will reject the claim that the Dock will provide “total public access to the Riverfront”, and keep in mind:

  1. The history of public access rights at Mohawk Harbor (ALCO site) and the role of the Galesi Group and the Casino in denying those rights to the public.
  2. The many millions of dollars that Rush Street Gaming gives or offers to other casino cities, above any taxes due, while passing out at best tiny “donations” to Schenectady organizations and government. For examples, see our post “Rush Street’s Giveaways“.
  3. Rush Street’s made unrealistic projections of its expected gaming revenue on its license application and in persuading local leaders and residents to support their Application and grant concessions in our zoning code. The over-projections have resulted in disappointing payments to the State, City and County for three years, with little chance of ever reaching its projections.
  4. Rush Street constantly seeking reductions in gaming tax rates, which would further reduce the already disappointing total revenue received by the City and County, despite presenting no valid arguments for tax breaks. See our posting “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid.”