why the 21-year-old rule at Rivers Casino?

 A number of people have left comments in the media this week, after learning that Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor was fined for allowing an underaged person — someone not yet 21 — to gamble. They wondered why the age for gambling at the casino isn’t 18, like at racinos and Indian casinos in the State. See “Underage gambler caught — but only after he won $1,300 on slot machinesSchenectady casino fined for letting him on the gambling floor” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 24, 2017); “State fines Rivers Casino $6k for underage-gambler” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Steven Cook, March 23, 2017). 

Here is the Comment I left at the Gazette explaining the legal situation and speculating on reasons:

 You’re right to be a little confused. Although the general age to gamble in New York State is 18, the Upstate New Gaming and Economic Development Act of 2013 added an exception for the commercial “destination” casinos approved by that statute. [click for the text of the Act] You must be 21 to gamble at any new facility licensed under the Act (Schenectady, Seneca Falls/Tyre, Tioga, and Monticello). Here’s the provision:

“§1332. Age for gaming participation 1. No person under the age at which a person is authorized to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages shall enter, or wager in, a licensed casino; provided, however, that such a person may enter a casino facility by way of passage to another room . . . “

Any winnings by a person prohibited under the above section must be forfeited and put into the State’s gaming revenues fund. Those under 21 are still allowed in other parts of the casino facility (restaurants, entertainment events, etc.), but not the actual “casino” rooms where the gambling is allowed.

“Racino” locations and Indian reservations may continue to allow 18 year-olds to gamble. Such facilities either send them into special under-21 areas or give them wristbands indicating they are under 21, so they won’t be served alcohol. Attempts by lawmakers and others to raise the gambling age at the racinos have gone nowhere in the State Legislature.

Like many laws that seem illogical, the 21-age limit was probably a political concession to get the Constitutional Amendment and the 2013 Act passed. My guess is that the existing racino locations (which do not have live table games) pressed hard to have this advantage over the new commercial casinos; it might also have been a way to get the votes of others who were anti-gambling in general.

 Many people are concerned that the younger you are when introduced to casino gambling the more likely it is that you will develop a gambling problem. The mixture of alcohol and gambling is even more worrisome. See our posting “what will the casino mean for Union College students?“, which discusses such issues, and our particular concern over Rush Street Gaming’s practice of targeting younger gamblers. And see “Rush Street takes aim at adolescents” (Sept. 9, 2014).

Note that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has had to fine Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse, numerous times for allowing underage gamblers and persons on the self-exclusion list to gamble. See details at our 2016 problem gambling post http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy

Rivers revenues down 4th straight week

 Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor faced its first major snow storm last week. The storm virtually closed the City down on Tuesday, March 14, but roads were serviceable the next day, with the nearby Stockade neighborhood (especially Front Street, which borders the casino complex) enjoying its quickest snow removal experience in memory. It is no surprise that Gross Gaming Revenues at Rivers Schenectady declined from the prior week’s record low figures, making it four straight weeks of falling GGR. In fact, the 1% reduction was less severe than I had expected, with $2,757,738 generated. The image at the head of this paragraph shows the weekly totals since Rivers opened in Schenectady on February 8.

The distribution of the revenues looks interesting to this non-expert observer:

  • slots revenues were down 17.6%, falling to $1,571,972
  • table game revenues were up 44.6%, soaring to $1,060,418

Did grandma decide to stay home, while the high-rollers were snowed in at Mohawk Harbor overnight the day of the storm?

. . you can find the weekly Rivers Casino revenue stats, usually refreshed on Friday morning, here: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs

. . see what do those Casino revenue figures mean? (

newspaper update (Monday, March 27, 2017): As of 1 PM today, the Gazette continues to avoid mentioning this streak of weekly revenue declines. Thankfully, the Times Union did report the revenue picture today, in “Area casinos had another down week” (by Eric Anderson, online on March 27, 2017). The TU notes that Saratoga Casino saw its third weekly decline, and “Rivers reported its fourth consecutive weekly decline”, noting “The most recent figures likely were depressed by a massive snowstorm that struck the Capital Region March 14.” TU also explained that even Rivers Casino’s best week so far does not meet the weekly average it would need to make their “stabilized” 2019 revenues projection. 


LadyBug14Mar2017 p.s.
“Walkable Schenectady”?  Our Mayor likes to brag about our “walkable City”, as do the gents at Metroplex. A week after the mid-March snow storm ended, many crosswalks in downtown Schenectady were clogged at the curb with snow, and many sidewalks in downtown Schenectady were left unshoveled. The snow had stopped Wednesday morning, but on Saturday evening, March 18, I made the mistake of trying to walk from my Stockade home up Front Street, to Mohawk Harbor and then up Erie Blvd. I spent a lot of time precariously switching from sidewalk to street.

 Front St. at N. Church. . DSCF2601

I was particularly surprised at how difficult it was to be on foot near the Casino.

DSCF2589 . . [L] this is what confronted you on foot at the intersection of Front Street and Rush Street, if you wanted to head toward Erie Boulevard.

DSCF2595 . . DSCF2597 . . Once at the rotary at Rush St. and Erie Blvd., you had some snow climbing to do to get to the Nott St. side of the rotary, with an unshoveled sidewalk once across the street.

DSCF2599-001 . . [L] Most daunting was trying to head south on Erie Boulevard on foot. Once past the overhead walkway, virtually all of the sidewalk had the full 19 inches of snow, all the way to Stewart’s, at Green Street. If a business had shoveled at its driveway, the curb at the intersection and crosswalk was piled even higher. I was left to walking at sunset on the side of a very busy road, with fast traffic and lots of puddles. Not pedestrian-friendly, Mr. Mayor. Not a good introduction to visitors on the ease of getting from Mohawk Harbor to our much-touted downtown Renaissance.

another big drop in Casino revenues

 The numbers are out for the fourth full week (ending March 12, 2017) of revenues generated at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady: just under $2.8 million; the worst week yet; and no snow storm to blame.

  • a 21% drop from the first full week
  • 9.9% less than last week’s numbers, which were down 11% from the prior week, and were never reported by the Gazette

  • The weekly average needs to be $4.3M to reach the $223 million annual gaming revenue number so often repeated by Mayor McCarthy, which is the projection for the “stabilized” 2019. So far, the four full weeks have averaged about $3.2 million, which won’t even generate the significantly lower first-year projections of the Casino and County.

  • Today’s Gazette tells us there are changes coming to Rivers Casino due to patron requests and frustrations. Changes in works at Rivers Casino, including poker tournaments: Some customers have expressed frustration”, by Brett Samuels, March 17, 2017). It would have been a nice place to mention the slide in revenues, rather than: “[I]t has continued to net at least $3 million per week in gaming revenue and pulled in $10.8 million in its first month from slots and table games after payouts.”

On St. Patrick’s day, we must ask our good boyo Mayor Gary McCarthy if anyone but leprechauns believes in magic pots of gold?

 . . from Hallmark

10 P.M. Update: The Times Union has covered the newest revenue figures, in the online article “Revenues drop again at Rivers Casino in Schenectady” (Eric Anderson, March 17, 2017). The piece gives some context for the numbers:

So far, the casino hasn’t reached the $4.28 million weekly average figure that was projected in an economic impact study by New Orleans-based The Innovation Group.

But that figure was for 2019, and by then the casino hotel should be open and construction at the neighboring Mohawk Harbors completed.

It’s also not clear whether bus tours to the casino have yet started. That also can be a lucrative source of revenues.

. . find the weekly Rivers Casino revenue stats here: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs

. . and, see our post: “what do those Casino revenue figures mean” (March 5, 2017)

a wicked concert cartel?

 An article in today’s Schenectady Daily Gazette suggests that fears we expressed and explained in 2014, here and there, were warranted as to the likely anticompetitive and anti-consumer nature of the so-called Fair Game Theater Coalition. See “Rivers Casino, Proctors team up for entertainment: ‘In no way, shape or form do I feel like we’re competitors” (Daily Gazette, by Brett Samuels, A1, March 8, 2017). The article highlights the lack of rivalry and the depth of cooperation between Proctors and Rivers Casino, and the importance of the Upstate Theatre Coalition for a Fair Game in nurturing this chummy state of affairs between entities that clearly are two of the most prominent members of the live-entertainment and leisure activity market in Schenectady and the Capital Region.

Ironically, Proctors CEO Philip Morris seems to be bragging about the very kinds of restrictions that we warned about back in 2014, when we said:

feelin’ blue

 “[T]he “Fair Game” Coalition (a/k/a The Concert Cartel) may end up achieving joint booking and venue-size limitations, and a revenue-sharing agreement with each of the 3 or 4 winning casinos.  That could mean the equivalent of territorial exclusivity, and joint booking and ticket pricing, for all/each of FairGame members, across all of the eastern portion of Upstate New York, through midState locations such as Utica and Syracuse, and apparently stretching to their members in the Western end of the State.”

On the one hand, Proctors CEO Philip Morris asserts in the Gazette article that Proctors and Rivers Casino are not competitors (a contention that would clearly by rejected by objective economists and antitrust experts); on the other hand, he makes it clear that the Fair Game theater coalition is protecting its members from casino competition across Upstate New York. According to the Gazette:

Without the Fair Game agreement, Morris said, he likely wouldn’t be feeling quite as optimistic about the relationship between the two entertainment entities moving forward.

slicingthepie “It set the stage for a collaboration that probably was critical for any next step,” Morris said. “I think if there was no Fair Game, we probably wouldn’t be doing the booking, and we might be in competitive mode.”

Casino applicants were encouraged under the Act authorizing new commercial casinos to enter into arrangements with local entertainment venues, demonstrating that the local casino “actively supports the mission and the operation of the impacted entertainment venues.” [§1320(3)(2)(D)]. The members of the Fair Game coalition were expected to help their members and the applicants gather necessary information that would facilitate such agreements. Coalition members were not given the freedom to eliminate competition among themselves, nor to prevent competition from all casinos within a large (seemingly unlimited) region. Consumers will surely lose out, with fewer choices and higher prices.

trust-buster needed

In 2014, I asked the New York Attorney General’s Antitrust Bureau to take a look at the operation of Fair Game. Although they replied to me that a preliminary investigation was being undertaken, no further communications were received from the AG suggesting that Fair Game raised antitrust concerns. In 2017, the casinos are in operation in Tyre (near Syracuse), Tioga Downs (near Binghamton), and Schenectady. The AG can now see in more detail and in action the restrictions adopted by Fair Game’s group of the largest Upstate entertainment venues and by each of the new casinos. I hope the Antitrust Bureau will therefore take a close look this time. Restrictions that unnecessarily limit competition between and among the theater-arena venues and the new casinos should be barred, allowing consumers the broadest array of entertainment and location options, and hopefully the best value for their entertainment dollars.

The creation of the Fair Game theater coalition, with its potential to limit competition from casinos and other major venues, transformed Proctors CEO from a strong opponent of having a casino in town, to a fervent casino supporter. Does any one believe this cooperation will result in more entertainment choices and lower ticket prices (beyond token gimmicks and give-aways) for the people of our community? Moreover, will lesser-known entertainment venues and options benefit, or just lose market share to the Big Guys in Town? Did our Legislature really mean to greatly reduce competition across the state between and among casinos and major entertainment venues, when it tried to reassure theaters like Proctors that they would not be run out of business if a casino came to town?

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what do those Casino revenue figures mean?

OPEN LETTER to the SCHENECTADY GAZETTE and Other Capital Region Media

. . and see March 10 update below . .

. . and “another big drop in Casino revenues” (March 17, 2017)

Dear Schenectady Gazette and Local Media editors and reporters:

ch6casinorev We need some context, please, when you give us weekly (and soon, monthly) numbers about the gaming revenue generated at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. [E.g., Gazette, TU, WRGB-Ch6News] Gaming revenue numbers are virtually meaningless without background information, such as typical patterns for casino opening revenues, and this Casino’s own projections for annual revenues. This is especially true because Rush Street Gaming will be paying its gaming taxes based totally on the net gaming revenue figures. That is unlike other casinos where minimum annual local contributions have been promised (including Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which has consistently fallen short of its projections, and used the shortfall as a reason to request reduced real estate assessment).

  •  images-7Reportage on the second week’s Casino revenue is a prime example of numbers without context. Neither the Casino’s projected revenue nor industry expectations or patterns in the opening weeks of a casino were mentioned. Moreover, the Gazette headline touted, “Report: Rivers Casino sees revenue boost” (Feb. 27, 2017), with the article stating that there was a 24% increase in gross gaming revenue ($33.8 million) and a 16% boost in net revenue ($3.5 million) for the first full week of operation. While it mentioned the snowstorm in Schenectady during the first week, there was no indication of how many days were counted in the first week’s numbers, which included a “soft” by-invitation opening day before the official opening. Nor was there any discussion of the significance of a 16% increase for a full 7-day week, which has 14.28% more days than a 6-day week, and 29.5% more days than a 5-day week. Instead, a prepared statement by casino officials is quoted: “We are pleased with the performance of Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady during our first full week of operation.”

The Gazette and Mayor Gary McCarthy have consistently used the number of $223 million dollars in annual net gaming revenues for the Schenectady Casino, with a resulting payment of $4.1 million annually each to the City and to the County. $223 million is, on average over a 52-week year, about $4.3 million per week. So far, Rivers Casino Schenectady has posted net gaming revenue of of $3.55M and $3.47M for its first two full weeks of operation, after an opening short week of $3M. 

abacusThe average revenues for Rivers Casino’s first two full weeks, $3.51M, would result in annual net gaming revenues of $183M dollars upon which to calculate its State gaming tax bill. That is 18% lower than the $223M projection, and would mean a significant shortfall for local tax coffers.

 How well do casinos usually do during their opening weeks? I’ve been hoping the Gazette would tell us.


sleuth Last night, I spent about 30 minutes Googling casino opening revenues, and looking at the first two examples that came up, I discovered that the new mega-casino project MGM National Harbor, located on the Potomac River in the D.C. suburbs of Maryland, generated about $49M in gaming revenues in its first month (January 2017). Maryland’s racing commission hired two consultants to project annual revenues for National Harbor. One predicted $512M and the other predicted $575M. Annualized, National Harbor’s first month revenues are about $576 million dollars, which is on track to meet even the higher projection.

plungegraphsmY

trends?

 Similarly, in July 2015, Plainridge Park Casino near Boston generated $18.1 million in its first month of operation. Plainridge predicted an annual gaming revenue of $200 million. Annualized, $18.1M would total $217.2M, a nice 8% increase over the $200M projection. (see MassLive, Aug. 15, 2015) Note, however, that early success does not necessarily mean a casino will continue to generate comparable numbers.  Plainridge Park fell far short of its projections for the entire year.

 Shouldn’t the Gazette help its readers (and our Pollyanna-like political and business leaders) understand how Rivers Casino is doing compared to its projections, and historic revenue numbers for similar casinos? If Schenectady’s “Newspaper of Record” does not do that, I hope other media members less attached to Rivers Casino (and City Hall, Galesi Group, and Metroplex) will do some investigation, or at least basic research.

 In contrast to the Gazette Tilt we have pointed out frequently at this website (recently, as to likely incidents of crime), the Albany Times Union has taken the lead over the past couple of years on many topics relating to the casino and Mohawk Harbor, Schenectady’s City Hall, PILOTS, etc. I hope it will continue to play that journalistic role, and perhaps spark some responsible journalism and competitive motivation from the Gazette and other media outlets.

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  • P.S. What about attendance numbers? How is Rivers Casino doing compared to its projection of 7500 weekday and 10,000 weekend visitors? In July 2014, the TU editorial board was a bit skeptical of those numbers. Follow-up would be nice, as patterns emerge with more moderate weather.

newspaper update (March 10, 2017): This evening, the Gazette posted an article online titled “How Rivers Casino’s 1st month revenues compare to projections“, by Brett Samuels, with a comparison of Rivers Casino’s February revenues and tax payments, covering 20 days, with its first-year projections.  After noting that “the city of Schenectady and Schenectady county received $191,991 each,” for the first twenty days, the article points out that:

“[I]f the city and county each received $275,000 per month in gaming revenue for the next 10 months, it would total about $2.9 million in gaming revenue each for all of 2017, falling short of the casino’s own initial projections.”

. . . “In preparing its 2017 budget, Schenectady County used the low-end revenue estimate, $3.3 million, and pro-rated it to a March opening. That would leave the county expecting about $2.75 million in casino revenue this year.”

The article also points out that “There are a few factors still at play that could influence casino revenues the rest of the year,” and says that the opening of the casino’s luxury hotel, and completion of luxury apartments, and office and retail space this summer will draw more people to the site. [We continue to wonder just who wants a luxury apartment abutting a homely and hectic casino site.]

Here is a screenshot we put together from the Rivers Casino revenues document at the NYS Racing Commission, showing its revenues through its third full week,ending March 5, 2017. Its third full week showed a 10%+  net gaming revenue decline.

RiversCasino05Mar2017Revs

  • Late each Friday afternoon, you should be able to see the latest figures from the prior week, on the Racing Commission site, at this link: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs.

plungegraphsm follow-up (March 12, 2017, 3 PM): As of this point in time, the Gazette has not reported the significant drop in gambling revenue at Rivers Casino in its third full week of operation, which is mentioned immediately above and shown in the screenshot. The Gazette did report on the weekly revenue reports to the Racing Commission each of the past three weeks. Friday evening at about 8 PM, the Times Union posted the numbers, in a brief staff report headlined “Double-digit revenue decline at casino, racino” (March 10, 2017), saying “Rivers gross gaming revenue fell nearly 11 percent to $3,094,804 in the week ending March 5 from $3,472,354 a week earlier. At Saratoga, the net win fell nearly 14 percent to $2,845,411 in the week ending March 4 from $3,302,242 the week before.”

a good start for Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2017

npgam_logo_h_cmyk_arrow-colorcorrected-v2 

  • update: The first community forum presentation on problem gambling of the NYS Responsible Play Partnership will be held Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at Elston Hall, at Schenectady County Community College, at 5 PM. It is free and open to the public. Please be there to show your support for not only more problem gambling treatment resources, but also for education and outreach resources to help deter problem gambling from ever getting to the stage where professional intervention is needed.

One year ago, we posted “Will problem gambling awareness month inspire action?” (March 2, 2016), posing the question: What are our public health officials and other local political and community leaders doing to combat problem gambling?

That 2016 Awareness Month post argued that:

[O]nly organized programs specifically focused on problem gambling prevention, education, and treatment, with ongoing outreach activities, can hope to address the effects that a casino in Schenectady is likely to have on our community. With Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor now scheduled to open in a year, such programs are needed ASAP and must especially target vulnerable groups, such as aging adults, low-income residents, and youth. [To see the full post, with its discussion, links, etc., click this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy]

Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope was 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 was, and is, not to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create an informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than an acceptable high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.  Unfortunately, in the past year, our local government leaders have not stepped forward to put Problem Gambling Awareness [“PGA”] programs into place in time to inoculate our community from casino fever.

nyrpplogoNonetheless, rather than point fingers or speculate on motives, I am happy to say there has been important activity at the State level that promises to bring significant PGA information to Schenectady, as well as other New York communities “hosting” casino, racino and similar “gaming” facilities. Those activities were announced in an email sent on February 28, 2017, by New York’s Responsible Play Partnership [formed in 2013], recognizing March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The text of the email can be found at the bottom of this posting. [See “What state’s doing to help you gamble responsiblyNew Yorkers can now ban themselves from facilities” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Brett Samuels, March 1, 2017)] The full text of the email can be found at the end of this posting.

probgam-pg2016-1920x1080-banners_nat_final . .  click on this thumbnail for the full Awareness Month poster:

The opening paragraphs of the NYRPP announcement, states:

New York’s Responsible Play Partnership (RPP) – consisting of the New York State Gaming Commission, the New York State Office on Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and the New York Council on Problem Gambling – today announced a series of initiatives in recognition of March as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

The Commission also launched its statewide self-exclusion program … [which] allows problem gamblers to ban themselves from all casinos operating in New York State

The RPP’s plans for March include visiting newly opened casinos to review the operators’ efforts to promote responsible gaming practices, followed by public meetings in the communities hosting the casinos to educate the public on the resources available for those who need help.

hopeline-text-square-purple-300x300 The RPP will also foster awareness through a focused social media campaign, conversation-driving signage at all gaming facilities across the State and development of a new public service announcement reminding New Yorkers that the OASAS HOPELINE (1-877-8HOPE-NY/TEXT HOPENY) exists to address all forms of addiction – including gambling. Finally, for the first time ever, the New York Lottery will feature responsible gaming messaging as part of its daily televised drawings.

  • Dates, times and locations for the public meetings will be announced in the near future. The Gazette reported, “A meeting is expected to be held in Schenectady in late March, though official details have not yet been announced.” We will list the information about the Schenectady meeting(s) when available.
  • LagoLogoB&W According to the Gazette, “Mary Cheeks, general manager at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino & Resort, previously said the business’ policies to promote responsible gaming include employee education and training, self-exclusion policies and listing the state’s addiction help hotline on advertisements and social media posts.” We believe that Rivers Casino, like del Lago in Tyre (which is paying for their County to hire two problem gambling counselors, or for treatment and one for prevention), should do much more to help the community learn about problem gambling. The Racing Commission has noted that fees and tax revenues (such as the annual fee on each slot machine) should not be counted as the casino fulfilling its obligation to mitigate such issues in its host community.

Statewide Self-Exclusion. RPP’s Awareness Month email (text below) stresses the new statewide nature of its Self-exclusion program, noting it is “the broadest self-exclusion program in the nation”, and stating:

The statewide policy closes a decades-old regulatory loophole in New York that made it possible for video lottery and casino patrons to voluntarily ban themselves from one gaming property only to continue playing at a neighboring facility unabated.

crimescene-casino The wisdom of a statewide ban is not obvious, and this site will delve further into the notion of a gambler being forced to self-exclude from every facility in the state. Will such a ban discourage many persons from entering the self-exclusion program, which in fact subjects the signer to criminal charges for entering the forbidden facilities regulated by the Racing Commission?  For a large portion of at-risk gamblers, it is proximity that creates their biggest danger. Why wouldn’t a geographic ban within a reasonable radius of the signer’s primary casino be effective? Why make it impossible for the signer, for example, to vacation with family or friends anywhere in the State and spend one evening at a casino? Would’t signing become an embarrassing stigma?

probgam-pgam2017toolkitlogoHave the Conversation.  A very important part of RPP’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month program for 2017 is its request that every New Yorker have a problem gambling conversation with at least one person in March. We will have much more to say on the Have the Conversation project, but for now please note that the New York Problem Gambling Council has put together a very useful Toolkit, with helpful one-page Action Sheets for Youth, Parents, Senior Citizen Caregivers, School Personnel, and School Administrators.  Click on the Toolkit logo to the right of this paragraph, or go to http://tinyurl.com/HTCtoolkit, to see and download the Have the Conversation Toolkit.

After a year of disappointment over the lack of public programs in Schenectady County relating to prevention, education and treatment for Problem Gambling, I am looking forward to see the RPP’s programs in action and resources in wide circulation.

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The email message explaining NY Responsible Play Partnership’s efforts this month to increase Problem Gambling Awareness is immediately below.

Continue reading

prostitutes help open Rivers Casino (as expected)

casinowalkers

expected by Rush Street?

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

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

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

  • cbs6wigginscrime

    Hubert Wiggins, WRGB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?

 

casinodesignactual

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

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

casino-renderresort . . 1st version

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 . . 2nd version

riversrender3 . . 3rd version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

casinodesign3sp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mohharbplayhereimage

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

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

Rethink the new Rivers casino design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

afterthought (February 10, 2017) – xpresscash08feb2017a

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

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

 

 

the Gazette takes problem gambling more seriously

After long silence on the topic, I am pleased to say that the Schenectady Gazette has devoted significant space to the issue of casino-related problem gambling this week, in preparation for today’s Grand Opening of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Here are excerpts from three articles:

sfoss In her opinion piece “More resources needed for problem gambling: Lack of services in Schenectady seems like serious omission” (Feb. 5, 2017), Gazette columnist Sara Foss raised important issues for our community. 

  • “There’s years of documentation and research showing that within 50 miles of a casino you see dramatic rises in problem gambling,” explained Philip Rainer, who serves as chief clinical officer at Capital Counseling, the non-profit agency that runs for the Center for Problem Gambling.

    Rainer and Hill are certain the Capital Region will see an uptick in gambling addiction due to the new casino. They are also certain that resisting the urge to gamble there will be a challenge for their clients, who have been talking about Rivers Casino & Resort for months.

  • Given the fact that a casino is about to open in our own backyard, the lack of gambling services in Schenectady seems like a serious omission.

    nycpgjaimecostello “Ease of access increases problems,” Jaime Costello, director of prevention, training and special programs for NYCPG, said. “More programs are definitely needed. It would help if gambling services were available in every community.”

  • It would be nice to think that Hill, Rainer and other experts in problem gambling are wrong – that the casino won’t lead to an increase in problem gambling and other social ills. But I suspect that they’re right, and that within the year we’ll have a better understanding of the casino’s downsides.

    One of those downsides is sure to be an increase in problem gambling, and we need more resources for the people who can’t control themselves when they step onto the gaming floor.

An article dated February 7, 2017 reports on a Siena College poll with findings on the attitudes of Capital Region residents toward the Rivers Casino. (“Poll: Residents have mixed feelings on casino impacts“, by Brett Samuels, Daily Gazette.) Polling was conducted Jan. 8-11, and the poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The poll found that over 50 percent of people plan to visit the casino. Click here for the Siena College Research Institute Press Release. As for problem gambling:

While many see the casino as a positive economically, 55 percent believe the new casinos will cause increases in problem gambling and crime. The majority of respondents said problem gambling is a disease, but only 11 percent said they are aware of treatment services in their area.

 “The survey results support our view that both raising awareness of problem gambling and providing resources for problem gamblers and their families is crucial as new casinos open,” Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, said in a statement.

Also, in “Concerns over Rivers Casino persist for some ahead of opening day” (by Brett Samuels, Feb. 5, 2017), the discussion also focuses on the likelihood of an increase in problem gambling (which Rush Street has denied will happen here), including extended remarks by Jim Maney, Executive Director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling:

Aside from city finances, there’s the matter of personal finances. The most recent federal study on gambling shows problem gambling roughly doubles within a 50-mile radius of a new casino. Experts consider proximity and opportunity the biggest contributors to a gambling habit.   

 

Prior to Rivers, the nearest full casino to Schenectady was Turning Stone Resort and Casino, located almost 100 miles west in the town of Verona, although there is also the racino in Saratoga Springs, which has numerous gambling options, though not as many as either Turning Stone or Rivers.

nycpgjimmaney “If someone had to go to Turning Stone but could only go once a week because it was too far, now you can go every day. You can go after work, you can go between errands,” said Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling.

 

The biggest warning signs of a possible addiction include making more frequent trips to a casino and betting higher amounts, or lying about the frequency of those visits, Maney said.

 

Consequences of problem gambling can surface in different ways, he said. For some, it might be reflected in unpaid bills or a dependency on social services. For others, it might lead to stress and additional doctor’s visits.

 

While problem gambling affects a small percentage of the population, Maney said it’s an issue that can affect an entire family if bills go unpaid and money dries up. The best way to seek treatment is to call the state’s help line, he said.

pgposterdetail For much more on the need for problem gambling education and prevention programs in our community, see our posting last March, during Problem Gambling Awareness month. Of course, we need action — real programs backed with committed resources — not just words. Let’s see who comes forward to make it happen.

.

update: The first community forum presentation on problem gambling of the NYS Responsible Play Partnership will be held Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at Elston Hall, at Schenectady County Community College, at 5 PM. It is free and open to the public. Please be there to show your support for not only more problem gambling treatment resources, but also for education and outreach resources to help deter problem gambling from ever getting to the stage where professional intervention is needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . del Lago  dellagocasino  . .

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

tiogacasinofront . . Tioga Downs Casino  . . tiogaentrancetwc

Montreign Casino . . montreignentrance

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

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

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

dellagocasino30jan2017

  • tiogacasinocollage Tioga Downs Casino, in Nichols NY, has been revamped (with a $122 million capital investment) and is already opened (since December 2016) in the Southern Tier, with a “country-fair themed” experience; click the collage to the right for more images of Tioga.
  • saratogacasino [on left] The upgraded Saratoga Casino and Raceway [FAQs], which is about 22 miles up Rt. 50 from Schenectady, is located in a proven tourist town that offers good taste, upscale shopping, and history; it is still a “racino”, but has over 1700 slot machines and electronic table games;
  • montreigncasinovThe Montreign Casino at Monticello (image on right), scheduled to open early next year, with a much larger budget [$1.3 billion when the complex is completed] than Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and the vision of renewing the Catskills as a top-level tourist destination, with a four-star hotel (and a less pricey one being built in its expansive entertainment center); and, of course,
  • turning-stone-casino The Oneida National tribal casino-resort Turning Stone at Verona, NY, is 24-years old and doing $20 million in upgrades to compete with del Lago; and
  • FallsViewFallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, ON Canada, opened in 2004 as a $1 billion investment. It is owned by the Government of Ontario, and managed by a consortium that includes a company owned by Neil Bluhm, the original developer of Fallsview, and the primary owner of Rush Street Gaming. [image on the right]

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

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

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

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

riverscasino-erieapproach

a look at Erie Blvd.

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

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

MinorLeagueSchdy

Rush Street designs

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

APPENDIX – Distances from various cities to the casinos

Continue reading

Schenectady’s infamous February 8th

feb8infamy8x10

. . click on the image above for a larger version (formatted for 10″x8″); for other sizes, click on the thumbnails below. You may download them for noncommercial use and free distribution . .  

feb8infamy4x6we [for 4″x6″] . . feb8infamy5x7 [for 5″x7″]

As James Kirby pointed out in a Letter to the Editor of the Gazette (December 4, 2016), the February 8 opening of the Rivers Casino coincides with the date of the Schenectady Massacre in 1690. Here is my Dec. 6 comment to that Letter at the Gazette website, amplifying on the irony:

Re: Massacre and Casino: Sadly, the timing of the casino opening has much more irony than merely coinciding with the date of the Schenectady Massacre. The website name “Stop the Schenectady Casino” was changed to “Snowmen at the Gates,” to symbolize that inviting in the Casino and capitulating to its proponents is part of a long history of Schenectady’s leaders not fulfilling their duty to protect the City and its people.

The marauders from Canada decided to attack Schenectady rather than Albany on the night of February 8, 1690 because (1) there were no sentinels on guard at the main gates of the Village, but snowmen standing in their stead, and (2) the gates were left open by citizens who refused to remove snow blocking the closing of the gates, in defiance of an order given to the mostly Dutch settlers by their hated English commander Captain John Sander Glen to close the gates. As explained more fully at the posting, “Have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Massacre?”, http://tinyurl.com/MassacreLessons :

snowmencameoBW-004 Our website name “Snowmen at the Gates” refers to the legendary snowmen “standing guard” in a blizzard, on February 8, 1690, outside the open north gate of the sturdy stockade fence that was built to protect the little village of Schenectady. Although messages had been received from the larger outpost at Albany warning that a war party was on the way that evening, the appointed sentries apparently decided to leave their posts to have a tankard or two at the nearby Douwe Aukes tavern. That dereliction of duty allowed a band of 114 French soldiers and 96 Sault and Algonquin Indians to enter the stockade, burn down the village, and massacre, kidnap, or scare away its residents.

casinotownlogo We who watched every element of our cheerleading City and County government [along with the Gazette] cave in to every demand of the Casino Gang (with only Mr. Riggi and Ms. Porterfield in opposition on the City Council), and ignore all warnings and research concerning the likely negative effects of a casino and ways to mitigate them, do not believe the lessons have been learned from the 1690 Massacre. Our Mayor, Metroplex Chair, and County Legislature prefer to have harmless, voiceless and blind Snowmen sitting on our boards and councils, turning over the keys of the City and the decision-making machinery to the Casino Gang.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected the folks from Chicago’s Rush Street Gaming to recall the date of the Schenectady Massacre. But, didn’t anybody at City Hall or Metroplex Central see that date and point out the public relations problems it entails? Or, is this a new notion of civic honesty about the casino and its impact on Schenectady?

Last year, I left a comment much like the following paragraph at the Gazette website concerning an editorial about review of future Casino requests:

Our leaders and servants at City Hall need to be watchdogs protecting the public, not cheerleaders repeating the casino’s claims, or weaponless and mute Snowmen guarding the gates of our City, like on the night of the 1690 Massacre. Our leaders must take their time, use common sense, ask probing questions, and require full submissions about the factual basis of an Applicants’ claims, and deadline assertions, especially on projects as big and important as Mohawk Harbor and its Casino.

And, they must actually listen to the warnings and suggestions of community members who want what is best for our City, not simply the best for their financial and political futures.

Will the City, County and business leaders who are taking so much credit for bringing Rivers Casino to Schenectady, and did virtually nothing to mitigate or prevent its likely negative effects, melt like snowmen under the spotlight and heated questions that they can expect when things start to go wrong? Or, will they take responsibility, come up with meaningful solutions, and ensure that we are much more than a company town (a Casino Town)?

Rivers Casino will open February 8, 2017

casinosignalot

The Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, in Schenectady, announced today that it will open for business on February 8, 2017, a Wednesday. See Gazette article, dated Nov. 16, 2016) The Gazette tells us:

The grand opening date was revealed at an event outside the casino, which is located on the Mohawk Harbor site along Erie Boulevard. Casino executives and local leaders popped champagne and celebrated the announcement as a milestone for the region.

The most recent estimate for the opening had been for March. The del Lago Resort Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, New York, has announced a February 1, 2017 opening. (By the way, earlier this month, del Lago made a $100,000 donation to promote workforce diversity) The Tioga Downs Casino, in Nichols NY, which has expanded from its racino status, opened as a full casino on December 2, 2016; the Montreign Casino, at Monticello NY, is expected to open in March 2018.

Two thoughts after viewing the Casino today from Erie Boulevard and Front Street:

  1. img_2604 The Casino compound still looks more like the cineplex end of a 1990’s shopping mall than an international or national tourist destination. (see photo on the right) [follow-up (Jan. 19, 2017): See “casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?“, which compares casino designs among the competing casinos.]
  2. As we pointed out often at this website and in submissions to the Planning Commission and City Council, Rush Street and Galesi were clearly misleading our community when they insisted that the Casino could not be seen from Erie Boulevard, because the STS Steel building was in the way. (see, e.g. our posting “phony pylon excuse“) The invisibility of the Casino and its rooftop signage from Erie was the excuse given for the demand that Rush Street be able to erect an 80′ x 39′ pylon sign structure. City Council and the Planning staff and Commission never challenged that bold claim, and changed the Zoning Code to accommodate such a monster pylon (which Rush Street has never promised not to build). If they were willing to deceive on something so easily shown to be untrue, what other misleading claims has the Casino Gang made? Revenue projections? Traffic flow?

 img_2605

. . . above and below: Rivers Casino viewed from Erie Boulevard . ..

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follow-up: We felt a strong need to comment on the fact that February 8 is the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre of 1690. See our posting “Schenectady’s infamous February 8th“.

Gazette decries “fake news”

 If, despite the Presidential Election Campaign, you have not yet met your annual Irony Quota, we suggest you head over to today’s Sunday Gazette Opinion section for Judy Patrick’s Editor’s Notes column, titled “Be on the lookout for fake news stories.” (click here for a pdf. version of the column) Among other things, Ms. Patrick, the newly named Editor at the Gazette, gives us these gems [with my quick replies in parentheses]:

  • “Reputable news organizations work hard to present information objectively and fairly.

    “The mainstream media isn’t trying to slant the news; for journalists, the search for the truth is something of a divine mission.” [lawyers hope their b.s. can pass a Blush Test; there should be blushing aplenty going on at Maxon Rd. Ext.] 

  • “Fake stories are especially confounding because, unlike the seven-headed goat, they can be pretty clever.

    “They look just like a legitimate news site.” [True that!]

  • “Astute consumers of news have always had fairly good critical thinking skills.” [we need more critical thinking skills on the Gazette staff, or more likely, the editors need to let their reporters apply those skills]

Here’s my comment at Ms. Patrick’s Fake News opinion column:

Chutzpah? Hallucination? Hypocrisy? How could Gazette Editor Patrick give us this caution against slanted journalism, and declare “the search for truth is something of a divine mission,” with a straight face? Two and a half years ago, on the most important issue that will face our community in this generation, the Casino, the Gazette gave up its role as objective source of news and information for our community. Instead, the Gazette has acted, and continues to act, as a Public Relations arm and the Primary Censor of Unfavorable News for Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group.

 

see-no-evil-monkeyBlue When it comes to Mohawk Harbor, the Gazette has been devoid of investigative journalism, not even asking obvious follow-up questions to the specious claims of the Casino Gang and City Hall. The Independent Voice has been acting deaf, dumb and blind to the potential threat to the heart and soul of our community as Schenectady again becomes a Company Town, this time serving the shallow interests of a major casino, rather than a productive industrial powerhouse.

 

 threemonkeysFor the story of the Rigging of the News by the Gazette during the casino application process, see http://tinyurl.com/GazetteTilt .

If you have access to the Gazette online, please consider leaving your own comment. For more on this subject, see our postings, and included links:

our “drive-thru” rotary

DSCF1988 We’ve asked before why Galesi and Rush Street Gaming are not reimbursing the State and City for the cost of building the Erie-Nott-Rush rotary. [e.g.,“Rush Street’s Giveaways“, and “Money on the Table“] Last night’s unanimous approval of a retail project with a bank and a coffee shop, each with a drive-thru lane, with direct access to and from the rotary, surely raises the question once again. The Commission decision raises many other issues, and I put them in a letter to the Gazette editor this morning, echoing a comment that I left at the Gazette website:

To the editor:

re: “Commission OKs retail building at Mohawk Harbor site (by Haley Viccaro) July 21, 2016)

Here they go again! Neither Commission nor Gazette looks behind the misleading statements made by Galesi’s glib representatives. For example:

DSCF1994 We are told the coffee shop hours are unknown, but the Site Plan application itself states the coffee shop will be open 24/7. And, while the bank branches may have traditional banking hours, its ATM drive-up lane will be available 24/7.

“The new building will not have an impact on traffic compared to the original study for the site”. Interesting strategy — first go to the Commission with high numbers (never released to the public) and then say lower numbers means no impact compared to those numbers. The original study was solely for a much larger Dunkin’ Donuts store, and some general rule-of-thumb says a smaller shop will generate less traffic. Why does having a smaller coffee shop mean fewer people pulling in from the rotary to use the drive-thru lane? Buicko told the Gazette last week what great demand there would be for this service, saying that in addition to those living there and coming to the casino, “you have the people coming into work on that side who can just swing in and come back into the traffic circle.”

MH-BankCoffee-Vicinity “Majority of” has become a magic phrase, it seems. Mr. Hershberg says a majority of people would already be coming to the site for the casino or would live on the site. How about follow-up questions Commissioners? How much extra traffic are we talking about? How well are commuters going to deal with the not-yet-completed rotary? What does it mean to have a coffee shop and bank driveway empty directly into a rotary? How will that traffic blend into rotary traffic? Did Commission staff check to see if any other coffee shops have a similar location right ON a rotary?

What about traffic coming from Front Street? Casino cheerleader Ruscitto “said she doesn’t believe the building would have an impact on nearby Front Street.” Based on what? Will people be using Front St. to get to the bank ATM and the coffee drive-thru? “Hershberg said he believes a majority of people would take the roundabout to enter and exit the site.” Why not use signage to prevent entry coming directly from Front St.? How many people living at Mohawk Harbor, who would otherwise exit from the new Harbor Drive instead be adding to traffic entering from the “corner” of the rotary rather than smoothly entering from Erie Blvd.?

Rather than showing their independence after the Mayor dumped members who dared to ask questions, we get sleeping watchdogs overseeing the important issue of traffic movement and safety, even with no pressing deadline.

One more thing: The agenda for this meeting was not online until after 10 AM yesterday, the day of the Meeting. But, staff rushed up the wrong agenda, and a day later, if you click to see the “July 20” agenda, you still get the “January 20” agenda. Telling staff of the problem yesterday got no reaction to a problem that would take a few seconds to correct. Clearly City Hall belongs to the Casino Gang.

David Giacalone, Editor, “snowmen at the Gates”

https://snowmenatthegates.com/

Schenectady, NY

DSCF1991

follow-up (2 PM, July 21, 2016): Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro decided to respond to my Comment at the webpage for her article this morning, with this comment of her own:

hviccaro July 21, 2016, 12:20 p.m. 

David,

The hours in the site plan application will change based on the future tenant. The hours are not known at this time. So it is incorrect to say it will be open 24/7. That was clearly explained at the meeting last night.

The traffic study for the Mohawk Harbor site is available to the public and numbers were written in The Daily Gazette in several stories.

Examples: http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2015/ju…

http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2014/se…

If you want a copy of the traffic impact study just ask and I will send it to you.

Most customers are expected to be people who are already visiting, working or living there, according to the engineers. New customers would be approximately 60 a day, engineer Dan Hershberg said at the meeting.

If you have questions or concerns about an article you can email me directly or you can reach out to city staff and the Planning Commission.

Thanks,

Haley

Here are my replies at the Gazette website:

12:59 p.m.

Haley,

The coffee shop will be open 24/7, unless it is more profitable for the operator to close a few hours a day. For planning commission purposes, they stated in their application that it “will be open 24 hours a day. 7 days a week,” [ http://tinyurl.com/coffee24-7 ] and they are granted the right to be open 24/7.

In your comment above, you point me to two traffic impact studies about the casino development PRIOR to any plans to have the coffee shop and bank located on the rotary. The question is how much added traffic there will be and how it will interact with rotary traffic. Your 60 a day number must be an error. Perhaps you mean 60 extra during one of the peak hours. When I asked a Commission staffer yesterday to explain the calculation that reduced the trips generated by 50%, she could not explain the terminology used in the projections. Perhaps the Gazette could link to the actual projections submitted for the new project.

As you know, this is not the first article of yours about the Casino that I have had major questions about. See http://tinyurl.com/GazetteTilt

P.S. By the way, the Dunkin’ Donuts shops on Broadway and State Street in Schenectady are both open 24 hours a day.

2:14 p.m.

Here’s a link to the Traffic Assessment memo submitted by the Applicant to the Planning Commission: http://tinyurl.com/MHCoffeeTrips

As I mentioned in my first comment, the comparison concluding “no impact” is made to the never-official Dunkin’-Donuts-only projection, not to prior overall Rotary or Mohawk Harbor trips without the Coffee Shop and Bank.

Also, as I suggested in my second comment, the projection mentioned by Ms. Vicarro of “approximately 60 extra daily” is actually 66 at the AM Peak Hour Entering, with a total Entering and Exiting at that AM Peak Hour of 125.

Below is the Traffic Assessment memo submitted to the Commission by the applicant’s expert.

TrafficMemo18Jul2016

 

beware the Zombie Pylon (with updates)

pylonpoke

The Zombie Casino Pylon-in-a-Poke

Despite the Schenectady Gazette‘s misleading headline this afternoon, “Pylon sign plan killed at Mohawk Harbor” (March 23, 2016, by Haley Viccaro), there is no way Rush Street will do without a giant “branding sign” or give up the monster LCD screen at its Schenectady Casino. Reporter Viccaro did at least point out that the casino could in the future seek to have a pylon. In fact, they still have plenty of square footage to use, given City Hall’s overgenerous 19,000 sq. ft. signage limit.

 

 Here’s my Comment at the online Gazette article:
 .
The pylon sign plan has not been “killed”, it has been postponed, and your headline does the public a disservice. Rush Street has certainly not promised there will be no huge pylon or giant LCD screen. It is more likely that the Planning office or commissioners are not satisfied with the latest version of the pylon and Rush Street is not willing to postpone approval of the rest of its signage.
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There is no way Rush Street will have a casino that does not have a giant “branding sign” saying Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and they are well under the generous signage allowance granted by City Hall. On the bright side, this delay will remove any excuse Rush Street and the Planning Commission might try to use for failing to do a thorough Visual Impact Assessment of the pylon sign, with line-of-sight and computer analysis of its impact on nearby residents (such as Fusco’s Erie Blvd. apartments, East Front Street, Goose Hill, the Stockade and College Park), and on traffic safety. The Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s policy statement on Visual Impact Assessment, for example, says that a formal visual impact assessment is needed, with at least a line-of-site survey, whenever any component of a project can be seen from an historic district, such as the Stockade, with mitigation measures taken to prevent any significant visual impact from the District. [see http://tinyurl.com/VisImpactDEC ]

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update (March 24, 2016): There is an excellent editorial in the Gazette today, “Casino’s new sign plan offers a glimmer of hope“. It starts, “No one planning to visit the new Schenectady casino is going to get lost trying to find it.“, and ends:

Let’s hope this isn’t a bait-and-switch deal.

When or if the casino operators complete their full sign package, let’s hope they ultimately give the public plenty of notice, including a look at drawings of what the sign or signs will look like from the street.

And if the operators plan to go back to the giant pylon idea, they should let everyone know now, so the proper studies on its impact on surrounding neighborhoods can be thoroughly prepared and analyzed.

At the foot of this posting, I’ve placed my online Comment to this editorial, which focuses on the lessons our leaders should have learned about rushing to embrace the exaggerated demands of the Casino Gang.

As I told Paul Nelson of the Times Union when he called for a quote Wednesday afternoon, if lawyers, adolescents, realtors, or developers are being ambiguous, you can bet they are hiding something. [I momentarily forgot to put politicians in the list.]  See the initial TU piece here: “Schenectady casino operator scraps towering sign plan.” Nelson updated that piece with me details, with the sub-headline “After critical feedback, developers pull back, but opponent still skeptical”.

It is rather amusing that Rush Street told the Gazette:
 .
 “It has been our goal throughout the design process to solicit feedback from all stakeholders and apply thoughtful consideration to the design of the facility in order to bring the best possible development to the city of Schenectady.”
 .
When the public said the pylon design was too tall and too wide and too bright, Rush Street, made it wider (going from 38′ to 39′), moved the branding sign even higher by eliminating a small chimney-shaped lightbox on top, and went from a black background to an intensive white background and white framing. Of course, they have never asked the main pylon opponent [me] for any feedback.
.
It is also rather annoying that I was not able to get the Chief City Planner, Christine Primiano, to bring my latest request that the Commission require a Visual Impact Assessment before the Planning Commissioners. Chris told me I should wait until the pylon has been put on the agenda. That is, of course, about the surest way to ensure there will be no additional study. Without a visual impact resource assessment of the giant pylon signage, at the final proposed location and size, Schenectady will be buying a Pylon-in-a-Poke. If Ms. Primiano has in fact informally passed on my arguments about the requirement for a visual impact assessment to the Commissioners, or to the new Chair, Mary Wallinger, and this has helped in Rush Street’s decision to postpone submission of a pylon plan, I am grateful.
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Pylon-VisualImpact2-001
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share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ZombiePylon
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follow-up (March 24, 2016): This is my Comment to the Gazette editorial “Casino’s new sign plan offers a glimmer of hope” (March 26, 2016):

Thank you for an excellent editorial that touches on many of the most important points relevant to the Pylon. When Rush Street comes back with a new version of a giant, free-standing sign or LCD screen, it needs — as you have said — to submit an independent visual impact assessment for the proposed size, location and orientation of the structure. Only then can we begin to estimate its effects on residents and traffic nearby and on the overall skyline of our City.

.

I hope City Hall (from the Mayor and Corporation Counsel, to City Council and the Planning Commission) has learned a very big lesson. They Rushed to change the zoning signage restrictions from allowing one 7′ freestanding sign with 75 sq. ft. of signage, to 80′ tall and virtually no limit; and from a pylon with an 8′ wide sign and 5′ wide base to no limit on the width (resulting in a proposed pylon 38′ wide); and, they did it in a Rush, solely on the very specious claims of needing the monster pylon for the casino to be seen and for Erie Blvd. traffic to know where to turn soon enough to safely enter the traffic rotary.

.

One example: In justifying the City’s request to amend the zoning law and allow a 20,000 sq. ft. limit on signage for the casino, Corporation Counsel told me the Casino started negotiating by asking for 100,000 sq. ft. He seemed to have forgotten that the Casino told Metroplex and the Racing Commission it would need at most 15,000 sq. ft. And, now it has submitted a plan for about 8,000 sq. ft.

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City Hall and the public need to keep the Casino’s gross exaggerations of its needs in mind whenever they come asking for special treatment. They need to be watchdogs protecting the public, not cheerleaders repeating the casino’s claims, or weaponless Snowmen guarding the gates of our City like on the night of the 1690 Massacre. Our leaders must take their time, use common sense, ask probing questions, and require full submissions about the factual basis of an Applicants’ claims and deadline assertions, especially on projects as big and important as Mohawk Harbor and its Casino.

“Rush Street” is simply the wrong name

chi_rush_370-003

not in Schenectady!

rushpwdbottle-001 . . . . . follow-up (March 29, 2016): see “what comes after a rush?“. The City Council voted last night, and let’s just say “the fix is on” at Mohawk Harbor.

original posting:

 Rush Street Gaming, owner of the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, wants to name the main entry road being constructed in Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street.” Tomorrow, Monday, March 14, the Schenectady City Council is holding a public hearing on the naming of the three planned streets in Mohawk Harbor, at 7 PM in Room 209 of City Hall. [See, e.g., “Rush Street Gaming CEO defends road-name proposal” (Daily Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, Feb. 22, 2016); “Path to honor industrial past” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 7, 2016).] According to the Gazette article “Opinions mixed over street names“:

RushStreetSignXXX The proposed streets are Rush Street, which is an extension of Nott Street off the roundabout entering the site. Off of Rush Street to the right is the proposed Harborside Drive, which runs parallel to Erie Boulevard. Off Harborside Drive to the right is the proposed Mohawk Harbor Way, which is an extension of Maxon Road.

Although she has no problem with the name Rush Street, City Council President Leesa Perazzo proposed holding a non-mandatory public hearing on the street name resolution, to seek the public’s input, and the Council unanimously concurred. Perazzo acceded to the opposition of council members Marion Porterfield (Dem.) and Vince Riggi (Ind.), who expressed concerns about having a street named after the casino operator, and refused to vote the resolution out of the Public Services and Utilities Committee.

update (March 15, 2016): The Gazette reported late last night that “Mohawk Harbor street names draw few foes: Schenectady business leaders back choices; three residents voice opposition“, by Haley Vicarro; and the Times Union‘s Paul Nelson wrote, “Council asked to approve street names: Developer says Rush Street is appropriate despite objections“, by Paul Nelson (March 14, 2016). Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group proved again that they can pull the strings on our political and business leaders to get them to show up anywhere/anytime, say virtually anything, and even embrace a name they never would have dreamed up on their own. County leaders demonstrated both (1) that they had rushed last week to announce their naming the bike trail in honor of ALCO to give Rush Street cover for their eponymous street name; and (2) their continued disdain for the majority of County voters who said “No” in November 2013 to Proposition One and having commercial casinos anywhere in Upstate New York. [Click here for my written submitted Comments opposing the name Rush Street]

. . share this posting with this short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/NotRushStreet

ALCOlogoY Below, I offer several reasons why “Rush Street” is an inappropriate name at Schenectady’s Casino Compound. First, though, I acknowledge that there are many other suitable names for the roadways in Mohawk Harbor. My personal preference is that this piece of our City and its history, which for generations was the location of the American Locomotive Company’s headquarters and primary manufacturing operations, and which for the past few decades has been called the Old ALCO site, be commemorated for its role in Schenectady’s proud history of Hauling the World and strenuously contributing to our nation’s war efforts. That can and should be done by paying tribute to ALCO and its workforce in the street name of the roadway used to enter the casino compound at Mohawk Harbor, and perhaps the two other streets. [Click here for a brief history of ALCO, and here for a nostalgic image of the ALCO works; and see the Gazette Editorial. “Honor Alco’s history in Mohawk Harbor street names” (Feb. 18, 2016.)]

ALCOlogo

AMERICAN LOCOMOTIVE Drive

I’d like to suggest that the words “American Locomotive” be used in the street name, whether it is dubbed a street, avenue, boulevard, or lane.  In addition to paying tribute to the site’s past, the name American Locomotive, or similar words, will suggest that Mohawk Harbor and its Casino can be an Engine for Economic Growth in Schenectady, without suggesting that Schenectady should be or somehow already is proud of the City’s role in the Gaming Industry and related businesses. For myself, and many other people in our City and County, the existence of a casino in Schenectady may be seen as potentially good for employment and our tax revenues. It is not, however, a matter of civic “pride”. A casino does not and will not invoke for the City a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure taken from its achievements, nor a feeling of dignity, value or self-respect. Even if well run by a committed workforce (with their own personal pride in a job well done), and if enjoyed by customers for its entertainment value, it is merely a part of the leisure industry. A casino will “produce” entertainment for some, riches for a very few (mostly living elsewhere), but nothing that speaks of greatness and of a community’s special skills and dedication. And, although denied by its cheerleaders, a casino has the potential to have a significant negative impact on many aspects of the life of our community and its families.

I am proud of Schenectady’s connection to ALCO (and to GE), but I will never be proud of our City’s connection to the Gaming Industry, or to Rush Street Gaming. Honoring our past with a name like American Locomotive Drive — or simply the powerful “Locomotive Drive” — would be an important reminder to our residents and visitors of our proud and productive past, and of our faith in a future beyond the narrow scope of the gaming industry.

Rush-Street-004

What’s wrong with the name Rush Street?

  1.  RushStreetPostCard-001Name it after Rush Street in Chicago? No, thanks.  With yet another hard-to-believe explanation aimed at our City Council, Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin says they are not naming the street after themselves, but are instead hoping to invoke the energy and aura of Rush Street Chicago.  His letter to the Council says, “Rush Street in Chicago is a renowned entertainment destination. It sits just one block west of the ‘Magnificent Mile,’ an internationally known shopping district. Some of the finest dining and nightlife options in the city of Chicago are on Rush Street. I can tell you the atmosphere on this mile-long thoroughfare is electric. We want to bring that same excitement and success to the Electric City.” Indeed, according to Wikipedia, Rush Street Chicago “continues to be part of one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country and has businesses that correspond to the demands of its residents. The neighborhood hosts highly rated restaurants, five-star hotels, four-star spas, an elite senior citizen residence and prominent bars.” From my perspective, there are at least two big problems with invoking Rush Street Chicago:
    1. The vast majority of people considering or actually coming to Mohawk Harbor do not have the slightest idea what Rush Street Chicago is. That name is highly unlikely to draw any significant numbers of people from our very local/regional geographic market. If Rush Street Gaming truly wanted to make Rivers Casino in Schenectady a world-class entertainment destination, it would not have given us a casino designed to look like an outdated shopping mall (while proposing imposing casinos elsewhere), and it would not be requesting a pylon sign so huge and homely that it would never be permitted within several miles of Chicago’s Rush Street.
    2. WallStreetCompare

      our Wall Street analogy

      Those who do know what Rush Street in Chicago is like, can only be disappointed, and maybe even insulted, by the comparison once they arrive at Schenectady’s version.  Councilman VInce Riggi is correct to say that it is pretentious of Rush Street to name the street after itself, but it is probably even more pretentious to suggest their investment here will produce results comparable to even a tiny part of Chicago’s Rush Street. It is not too farfetched or cynical to predict, especially given the physical limitations of the site, that Schenectady’s Rush Street will be to Chicago’s Rush Street as our Wall Street is to Manhattan’s Wall Street. (see collage to the Right, and click on it for a larger verison)

  2.  Benjamin_Rush_Painting_by_Peale Name it after Benjamin Rush? Please, no, for his sake and ours. Rush Street in Chicago is named after Dr. Benjamin Rush [1746-1813], a physician who signed the Declaration of Independence, is called a Founding Father, was a leader of the American Enlightenment, perhaps the most prominent physician in the nation at the time, and wrote the first book in America on psychiatry. He was also a well-known abolitionist. Of course, it makes little sense to name an important thoroughfare in Schenectady after a man who has no local ties. More important, however, before doing so, we should consider, among other peculiarities, that:
    1. Ironically, Dr. Rush was a prominent advocate for temperance. He fought to include bans on “gaming, drunkenness, and uncleanness” along with “habits of idleness and love of pleasure”, in the U.S. Constitution.  He also campaigned against taverns and “clubs of all kinds where the only business of the company is feeding (for that is the true name of a gratification that is simply animal) are hurtful to morals”.   [See”The Benjamin Rush Prescription“, by psychologist Romeo Vitelli.] This leads me to believe Dr. Rush would strongly oppose naming the casino roadway Rush Street.

    2. Although Dr. Rush was a leading abolitionist, it should be noted that “In 1792, Rush read a paper before the American Philosophical Society which argued that the ‘color’ and ‘figure’ of blacks were derived from a form of leprosy. He argued that with proper treatment, blacks could be cured and become white [Wikipedia]  Also, despite his public condemnations of slavery, “Rush purchased a slave named William Grubber in 1776. To the consternation of many, Rush still owned Grubber when he joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1784.” [Id.]

    3. While other physicians gave up the practice of bloodletting and purges, Dr. Rush did not, and his practice waned. Indeed, “Some even blamed Rush’s bleeding for hastening the death of Benjamin Franklin, as well as George Washington . . ” [for more, see Wikipedia]

  3. RushPWD The Many Meanings and Connotations of the Word “rush”:  The word “rush” has many meanings as a verb, adjective, and noun, and quite a few of the meanings conjure up notions that seem unseemly, misleading, or unworthy for a great City and sober community to be pushing.  One example, of course, is the rush one gets from taking certain drugs. As described at Dictionary.com: “the initial, intensely pleasurable or exhilarated feeling experienced upon taking a narcotic or stimulant drug.” The little yellow bottle seen on the right contains a product deemed a liquid incense or aroma popper, thought of as cheap form of “club drug”. No matter what fans of the product my say or feel, neither the item nor the word comes to mind when I think about responsible gambling.  And, even if lots of the old rockers on the Senior Casino Tour buses arriving at Mohawk Harbor are fans of the band Rush, I’m finding it hard to fit the lyrics to their biggest hit, Tom Sawyer, into a useful mindset relative to the future of the City of Schenectady.
  4. RushStreetGamingLogo Naming the Street after Rush Street Gaming. Pretentious. At-Best Premature. Surely proof that Fools Rush In. Rush Street Gaming has yet to prove that it will be a good corporate neighbor or citizen in Schenectady, and thus perhaps the recipient of an Honorary Street Name some day. At “Snowmen at the Gates” (f/k/a Stop the Schenectady Casino)), there is plenty of proof that RSG asks for much and gives virtually nothing it is not forced by law to give. It certainly has been far more generous at its other casino locations with extra funding for local development and community services, and general mitigation of impact expenses, than in Schenectady, where the Mayor and City Council have given it all it wants, and more. Moreover, Neil Bluhm is far too good of a businessman to refuse to listen to offers to buy him out at Mohawk Harbor.  E.g., in 2012, he and Greg Carlin sold their Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., just four years after it opened, and after failing in their immediate request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment. That makes the Rush Street connection less than solid. Our elected leaders should have some self-respect and say no to this name grab.  That could start a great new precedent, asserting that Schenectady has a casino, but is Not a Casino Town.

Conclusion: Even if “Rush Street” were tolerably acceptable as a street name in Mohawk Harbor (which it is not), honoring our ALCO history and signaling our belief in a future that will once again be productive and worthy of civic pride are goals that point strongly to rejection of the street name Rush Street.

 

will Problem Gambling Awareness Month inspire action?

NPGAM_logo_H_CMYK_arrow-colorCorrected-v2

Helpline: 1-800-522-4700

 March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month [poster}

What are our public health officials and other local political and community leaders doing to combat problem gambling?

We believe that only organized programs specifically focused on problem gambling prevention, education, and treatment, with ongoing outreach activities, can hope to address the effects that a casino in Schenectady is likely to have on our community. With Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor now scheduled to open in a year, such programs are needed ASAP and must especially target vulnerable groups, such as aging adults, low-income residents, and youth.

So far, our City and County governments have refused to admit there is a problem, much less that it will be significant. Rush Street Gaming declared in its Application to the NYS Racing Commission for a Schenectady casino license that funding for treatment programs, and the prior existence of slots in Saratoga and casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut, meant that “the existence of gaming at Rivers Casino is not expected to lead to an increase in prevalence rates in the local area.” 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. The report Why Casinos Matter, by the Council on Casinos of the Institute for American Values, states to the contrary (at 18-19):

“Numerous studies show that living close to a casino is a key factor in more frequent gambling. More frequent gambling increases the risk of serious problem gambling. A large-scale study in 2004 found that people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of pathological and problem gambling as those who do not.”

Similarly, after doing an extensive review of the available research, the Hamilton (Ontario, Canada) group No Downtown Casino strongly and successfully opposed building a casino in downtown Hamilton, stressing that:

“Studies show that proximity to a casino doubles the levels of problem gambling, which in turn results in increased spousal abuse, depression, child developmental issues, personal debt, addiction and cross-dependency, personal bankruptcies, attempted suicides, suicides, social service costs. We know that problem gambling has a profound impact on a gambler’s friends and families, which substantially increases the number of people affected by problem gambling.”

Therefore, we congratulate the Schenectady Gazette editorial staff for raising the issue of problem gambling in today’s newspaper, in an editorial promoting the State’s proposals to improve the gambler self-exclusion  program (“Help Problem Gamblers Help Themselves“, March 2, 2016). Nevertheless, we hope the Gazette will call for far more comprehensive programs locally and statewide against problem gambling. We believe that self-exclusion from casinos by individuals who recognize they have a gambling problem and want to do something about it is, at best, a very limited approach to the plague of Problem Gambling. In a way, it is a mere fig-leaf covering a multitude of ways that casinos encourage irresponsible gambling. The 2,800 people who are currently on New York’s self-exclusion list are, for example, a tiny portion of the 15 to 20 percent of those who frequently gamble at casinos and are believed to be problem gamblers.

PGPosterdetailG  In addition, of course, Self-Exclusion programs are far from infallible. Thus, the article “Policing gamblers who can’t police themselves isn’t easy” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Jennifer Lin, September 9, 2013) states:

“It is somewhere between infrequent and unlikely that you will be detected,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. Casinos “rely on security guards at the entrance with an antique face book – a binder with photos” of customers on self-exclusion lists.

SugarHouseLogo Mohawk Harbor’s Rush Street Gaming has demonstrated the enforcement difficulty rather frequently in its Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse.  For example, see “Sugar House fined for advancing cash to problem gamblers” (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 2015), which reported that “The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board fined SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia $50,000 for giving cash advances to 11 individuals who asked to be banned from casinos in Pennsylvania.” Similarly, note the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board press release of May 23, 2012, announcing that SugarHouse was fined $70,000 “for seven instances where underage individuals [ranging in age from 17 to 20] engaged in gaming,” and an additional $10,000 “for two separate incidents in November 2010 and March 2011 in which two individuals who had placed themselves on the PGCB’s Self-Exclusion List engaged in gambling.”

A more amazing incident is described in “Casino developer allowed man to gamble 70-plus straight hours in Philly” (Telegraph & Gazette, Worcester, Mass, August 20, 2013), which quoted the following statement by Pennsylvania Gaming Board Commissioner Gregory C. Fajt to SugarHouse officials:

“It boggles my mind that somebody can be in your facility for three days in one instance, four days in another, a known compulsive gambler on the list and not be recognized.” 

Rush Street’s Rosemarie Cook replied: “I assure you it was not a case of being asleep at the wheel. . . . He was just average, and he looked average,” The Inquirer article cited above also discussed that incident, stating: “At their July meeting, Pennsylvania’s gaming commissioners excoriated SugarHouse representatives for not catching [frequent violator Kylee] Bryant.”

Despite the above record at SugarHouse (which I uncovered with just a few minutes of Googling), Rush Street recently issued this statement to the press (“New York to step up effort to battle problem gambling“, by Haley Viccaro, Schenectady Gazette, March 2, 2016):

“We have a strong history when it comes to responsible gaming at our other properties, including operating under statewide self-exclusion policies, and we look forward to continuing that same record of excellence in Schenectady.”

At a symposium on problem gambling held at Schenectady County Community College last year, the Rush Street representative was excited about their efforts to promote responsible gambling, but their efforts apparently revolve around helping the staff identify underage persons, problem gamblers and drinkers, and policing the state’s mandated self-exclusion program. Perhaps, we simply cannot expect more of a casino, when, as stated in Why Casinos Matter:

Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.

NoEvil-hear 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.

NoEvil For similar reasons, we perhaps cannot count on a City Hall and County Legislature banking on major tax relief that is based on the size of casino revenues to seriously recognize and combat the imminent growth of Schenectady’s problem gambling problem. One result of Mayor Gary McCarthy never demanding a host community or mitigation agreement with Rush Street Gaming is that the Mayor and his Administration, like 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, nearby neighborhoods or towns, or the County.  (See our posting on The Mayor and HCAs.)

LagoLogoB&W Things were different in the tiny town of Tyre and Seneca County to our west, when they confronted the potential coming of the Lago Casino to Tyre, NY. They sat down with applicant-developer Wilmot, commissioned studies, and accomplished a multi-faceted Host Community Agreement that squarely faced a multitude of issues, including the specter of problem gambling. To fulfill an agreement with Seneca County Mental Health Department that was incorporated into the Tyre Host Community Agreement [June 2014], Lago Casino will pay for hiring two additional problem gambling specialists (one for treatment and one for prevention). More important, Seneca County and casino developer Wilmot set out the structure for a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program that will seriously address the issues relating to problem gambling.

Here are some of the provisions in the 3-page Seneca County Problem Gambling Protocol:

  • In partnership with Seneca County Mental Health, Wilmot Casino will fund materials to be used for prevention, outreach and education to vulnerable populations in the Seneca County area.

  • [SCMH] will begin their outreach and education efforts once Wilmot Casino is granted the casino license, prior to the opening of the casino.

  • Initiatives to address problem gambling will focus on impacts in the workplace, family, neighborhood, youth, older adults, public safety and crime prevention awareness.

  • Problem gambling public awareness efforts will target messaging at specifically vulnerable populations including youth, parents as influencers on youth, family member of problem gamblers, indviduals and families with substance abuse disorders, college students, low income residents and aging adults.

  • Age appropriate programming and education on problem gambling will target youth beginning no  later than age 12.

  • Problem gambling education will be infused into all Seneca County Mental Health programs including but not limited to summer camps, Family Education Programs, Crime Victims Assistance Program, Domestic Violence Services and Domestic Abuse Awareness Classes.

  • Outreach and education specifically targeted at the Aging Adult population will take place at senior centers, retirement community events, etc.

Seneca County and Town of Tyre officials clearly understand that “partnering” with a casino developer means far more than helping it win its gaming license by avoiding all talk of negative impacts and added expenses; and the Wilmot Company expects to do much more than make demands and seek concessions in upholding its part of the partnership. It may be too late for Schenectady to use any leverage to achieve a impact mitigation agreement with Rush Street and Galesi, but it certainly is not too late for City and County leaders to establish and implement an outreach, education, prevention, and treatment program to combat problem gambling. Our not-for-profit sector (especially the Counseling and Helping Professions), faith communities, local media, academic leaders (at the collegiate level, and in our public, charter and parochial schools) need to speak out immediately, strongly and consistently to ensure that the County and City have necessary programs in place before Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor begins operations.

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 For more information and assistance, see: PGPosterdetail

Call: 1-800-522-4700
Text: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat

 red check follow-up (March 3, 2017): see our more optimistic coverage of 2017 Problem Gambling Aware Month

schdycityhallf Note: The editor of this website has started a modest Problem Gambling Postcard Project to help deal with related problems and educational needs. The postcards are available at The Open Door Book Store on Jay Street in downtown Schenectady. See the Postcards Page at “suns along the Mohawk” for a description of the project, which will donate all of the photographer’s proceeds with the intention of helping to deter and treat problem gambling.

Hull: Gazette no longer an objective critic

NoEvil-seeRoger Hull, former Union College President and Schenectady mayoral candidate, had a Letter to the Editor in Wednesday’s Daily Gazette questioning the ability of the Gazette to be an objective critic of our local government.  See “Gazette jeopardizing role as outside critic” (January 27, 2016; scroll to 3rd Letter). Hull’s letter highlights an important reason why, when it comes to safeguarding the interests of the residents of Schenectady, City Hall seems populated with more feckless snowmen than vigilant watchdogs: The City’s “newspaper of record” has become too closely allied with the Mayor, his Administration, City Council, and certain favored developers and businesses to serve as a fourth branch of government providing “checks and balances” through effective, unbiased criticism.

LoadedDice-GMDice-001Hull points out, for example, that “This past fall, we learned The Gazette was an investor with the casino owner and developer in a housing project to improve further the College Park neighborhood. ” And. “Now we learn the publisher of The Gazette is a member of the task force the mayor created on making Schenectady a Smart City.”

Roger Hull is too gentlemanly, perhaps, to also mention that the Mayor’s wife, Caroline Boardman, has been employed by the Gazette as a Multi-Media Specialist since May 2014 (when the casino issue first arose in Schenectady). Compared with a typical Gazette stafferMs. Boardman’s online staff webpage is remarkable — it has no mention of her married name, of course, but also no biography nor contact information. That seems somewhat ironic for a newspaper so interested in transparency lately.

NoEvil Hull wonders “whether a newspaper can remain objective when it is partnering with those advancing a particular agenda.” After spending 20 months or so closely observing the treatment the Gazette has given to the many factual and policy issues raised in the process of supporting and selecting a casino for Schenectady, and preparing for its construction and operation, this website doubts that the Gazette does or can remain objective when its allies at City Hall want a particular outcome on an important issue. And, that conclusion applies to actual coverage of the news in its “factual” reportage, as much if not more than on its editorial page content.

NoEvil-hearBy choosing to ignore negative facts about the casino, and by failing to pose crucial questions (i.e., the reality of constant deadline crises that were used to force decisions prematurely), and to demand the kind and amount of information needed for responsible decision-making by City Council and the Planning Commission, the Gazette has forfeited any claim that it can be an objective or effective critic. Moreover, by failing to provide the people of Schenectady with such information, and to provoke needed debate on the biggest questions shaping the City’s future, the Gazette has lost credibility and sown doubt about all of its coverage of local news.

The following postings at this site give specifics about the tilting of the news regarding the casino by the Gazette:

In our post on Rigging the News, we stated:

They [the Gazette’s owners and management] are proud of being “locally owned” and “independent”, but we’re afraid that can translate into parochial, unaccountable coverage, far too susceptible to pressures from local government and business interests (including important current or potential advertisers), and from the social, personal, demands on members of a small community of local leaders.

Those pressures can only be increased when the Gazette directly partners in business enterprises, joins important advisory bodies, and even hires the spouse of our Mayor. As a result, we have to look elsewhere for fuller news coverage and investigative reporting on City Hall, County Government, Metroplex, and development issues. And, it is difficult to envision how the Gazette can win back our trust.

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our concerns continue as license granted for Schenectady Casino

The NY Gaming Commission granted licenses for three Upstate casinos yesterday: Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, and Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, Sullivan County. See “License for Schenectady casino, two others approved” (Albany Times Union, Capital Confidential, Rick Karlin, Dec., 21, 2015); “Schenectady, two others awarded casino licenses” (Schenectady Gazette, Haley Viccaro, Dec. 21., 2015); “NYS Gaming Commission grants Schenectady casino a license” (News 10, WTEN, Mary Wilson, Dec. 21, 2015).

For some, it may seem grinch-like for us to withhold praise for the Schenectady Casino and to fail to wish it the very best success. Nonetheless, while we do not begrudge people who needs jobs supporting the Casino, we fear that its negative impact on the lives of the residents of Schenectady and of the Casino’s frequent customers and their families far outweigh the shaky revenue benefits that may come from the project, and we cannot endorse the faulty public policy that uses gamblers’ money to offset local property taxes.

In a nutshell, because we believe Rivers Casino cannot be a great revenue success without draining much-needed dollars from the financially vulnerable members of our community and creating significant numbers of problem gamblers, we cannot hope that it is a rousing success. 

The many postings listed in the Right Margin of our Homepage  (and on our Issues page), and our September 2014 Statement in Opposition, explain our concerns, none of which have in any way been diminished by the actions or words of the McCarthy Administration or Rush Street Gaming.

Last year, when the Schenectady casino application was chosen by the Location Board, we stated:

We especially hope that local government and groups will work to

  • reduce the harm caused to families and the community by excessive gambling by persons without the financial ability to sustain significant losses
  • assure that various types of expected street crimes will not increase around the casino or overflow into neighboring communities
  • prevent environmental damage caused by increased traffic, light pollution, flooding hazards, threats to historic buildings, and lost enjoyment of riverfront resources
  • protect the Historic Stockade neighborhood from an increase in traffic that will almost surely reduce the quality of  life in the neighborhood, and threaten the integrity of its historic structures
  • ensure that the local entertainment and leisure business community is not harmed by the many competing elements that are part of the casino project or partnering with Rush Street Gaming
  • ensure that the casino operator cooperates with experts educators to keep problem gambling from infecting young potential gamblers

We members of Stop the Schenectady Casino and our allies in opposition to the casino hope to work in good faith with government and community leaders, along with the casino operator, to gain the most benefits for the community from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor while producing a minimum of negative effects.  If the casino is indeed a reality, we need to turn our efforts from a short-term “fight” to try to stop a casino from being located in Schenectady into a longterm “mission” to make Schenectady the first city to avoid the social harm that comes with any urban casino.  That is a goal that both casino proponents and opponents can surely agree upon and unite their talents and resources to meet.

Here are three primary reasons for our continued concern that the problems and issues we have presented will not be adequately addressed by local government, and will need constant vigilance from those who want to protect Schenectady from casino-made problems:

  • Casino Town: Mayor Gary McCarthy and the various arms of City government have turned Schenectady into a Casino Town, where Rush Street and Galesi get whatever they ask for (and more) and are not pressed to make any commitments beyond the gambling revenue taxes Rush Street will be obligated to pay to the State, and various City and County fees and taxes. See, e.g., “Rush Street’s Giveaways” [to other cities], and “Planning Board hands Casino Gang a Blank Check“.
  • See No Evil. Both City Hall and our primary local newspaper, the Gazette [see, e.g., “Rigging the News“] refuse to acknowledge the likely negative impacts of the casino and therefore to call for necessary counter-measures and mitigation funds from Rush Street (such as the protocol for setting up a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program in the Host Community Agreement signed by Lago with the Town of Tyre and Sullivan County; see our Lago Info page).
  • Shaky Revenues. We have been saying for a year and a half, long before Moody’s recent affirmation of the negative outlook, that the casino marketplace is over-saturated and that revenues are Unlikely to Come Close to the Rosy Estimates. (see this posting) In addition, Rush Street traditionally over-estimates likely revenues in its applications for casino licenses. If there is a revenue shortfall, and even Mayor McCarthy now suggests that part of the casino revenue stream to the city will be needed to cover any negative impacts of the casino, what will be left to bring down property taxes, the primary reason Schenectady residents have been willing to take a chance on having a casino in our community?

Finally, for now, we invite you to check out the interactive map presented by K. Hume yesterday in the Gazette Editor’s Notebook, K. Hume. It should give pause to casino boosters who believe the Rivers Casino will somehow attract big money gamblers, or even the comfortable middle class, from afar (or even from across the State), and that Schenectady’s casino will buck the reality that most regular urban casino customers come from within a 25-mile radius, with relatively few people staying overnight (see our opening post last year). The Gazette map allows you to compare Schenectady’s casino with its coming competitors in Tyre and Thompson County, presenting an image of the Lago and Montreign casino resorts and basic numbers (click on each for a larger image):

LagoFacts . . . MontreignFacts

above: Lago in Tyre, Sullivan County [L] and Montreign Resort Casino 

SchdyCasinoFacts

If you were going to take your significant other or family on a special casino jaunt or vacation, and were willing to go more than 25 miles, would you choose Lago or Montreign, which look like casino resorts and have far larger project investments, or would you be attracted by the design of Mohawk Harbor’s Rivers Casino in exotic Schenectady, which continues to look like a shopping mall? (See image on the right.) Neither our Mayor and Planning Commission, nor Metroplex, were willing to insist that Rush Street give Schenectady a casino complex as attractive as those it has proposed in many other communities. See “Why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?“.  Once the novelty of Schenectady’s casino is gone, who do you think will be losing their money at Mohawk Harbor?

follow-up (Feb. 7, 2017): The actual constructed casino is even less impressive than the rendition shown just above to the right. See http://tinyurl.com/CasinoChoices for comparisons to its Upstate casino competition and related musings.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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