a quick look at del Lago’s exterior

 . . 

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

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

delLagoHotelRear

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

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

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Here are two more views of the del Lago Hotel:

IMG_6681 . . IMG_6679

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

IMG_6696  . . IMG_6694

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

. . IMG_6667 . .

IMG_6669

IMG_6666

UpstateNYMap2018

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

IMG_6673

bum’s Rush needed

. . “get dose bums outta here!” . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivers anniversary hoopla yields so-so results

front page Gazette ad

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

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

To put a $3.2 million Anniversary Week into perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

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just another February 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. .   . . 

. . above: approaching Rivers Casino . .

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

. .   . .  

. . above: approaching Resorts World Catskill Casino . .

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

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

. . 

Rivers Casino Visitation is another shortfall on the Mohawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

original posting

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Projected 80,000 tourist visitors per year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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p.s.

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

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the graph is prettier than the casino revenue numbers

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

do low gambling revenues mean fewer problem gamblers?

 Schenectady Gazette columnist Sara Foss has been the Capital Region journalist most consistently concerned about the potential for the Schenectady Casino creating more problem gamblers in our community. Her January 13 column continues that theme. See “Foss: More problem gamblers seeking treatment“; and her prior opinion piece, More resources needed for problem gambling” (Feb. 5, 2017).

For her recent column, Foss again spoke with Philip Rainer, the chief clinical officer at Capital Counseling, the non-profit agency that runs The Center for Problem Gambling in Albany. And, tells us:

 In the 11 months since Rivers Casino in Schenectady opened, Rainer has seen a steady uptick in the number of people seeking treatment for a gambling addiction from his organization.  . . .

When I caught up with Rainer last week, he spoke about the casino’s impact in the same matter-of-fact tone he did last year, only this time he was armed with hard numbers that suggest the new casinos have led to an increase in problem gambling.

In February 2017, there were 34 people enrolled in the Center’s gambling-treatment program. By December, that number had risen to 54 — a 60 percent increase.

Sara correctly notes that, although those numbers might not sound huge, “they represent a significant increase for a program that has been pretty stable, in terms of the number of individuals served, over the years.” But, apparently believing that lower GGR will mean fewer problem gamblers, Rainer told Foss that “the shortfall in gaming revenue and gamblers doesn’t trouble him one bit.” After noting that New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady has not yet seen an increase with its new gambling-only program, Sara concludes on a hopeful note:

I’m with Rainer: There is an upside to lower-than-projected gaming revenues, and it’s that there are likely to be fewer people battling gambling addictions.

Which is a good thing, even if it hurts the casinos’ bottom lines.

CasinoFeverLogo Sorry to say, I am not at all convinced that the experience at Capital Counseling gives us a complete picture of the extent of Casino-created problem gambling issues in our community. And, I cannot be as optimistic as Sara Foss that the significant shortfall in Gross Gambling Revenues generated by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is likely to mean fewer problem gamblers, or that the existence of trained counselors will be sufficient to solve the problem.  For one thing, gambling becomes a problem for gamblers and their families, friends, colleagues, and the community, long before it rises to the level of a gambling addiction and referral to or seeking counseling available from professionals like the Capital Counseling staff.

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

Thus, frequent visitors to Rivers Casino may be nurturing a problem gambling crisis long before they seek help, if they ever do. Moreover, eleven months is not a very long time for a person gambling at Rivers Casino, or thinking about it, to discover he or she might have a Problem Gambling or Gambling Addiction problem, and then make the commitment to seek out counseling (including, finding out whether it is covered by their health insurance).

  • Sufficient self-discovery or commitment is very often prompted by family or friends seeing a pattern that looks like a problem and gaining the courage to bring up the subject, or intervene, in an effective way.
  • It also can be prompted by a drastic financial crisis caused by gambling, but such money issues, especially for those with credit cards, often take quite awhile to become too great to ignore.

Indeed, how widespread can the Aha “I need gambling counseling” Moment be, when the media in general, and local government in particular, have not helped to educate the public about the dangers of problem gambling? And, have instead been working to make going to Rivers Casino seem glamorous or normal. [e.g., Mayor McCarthy in a Billy Fuccillo ad shot at the Casino; see image below] Surprisingly, private groups who we’d expect to promote Prevention Education — i.e., public interest and non-profits dealing with families and youth and the faith community — have not yet stepped up. In fact, even Schenectady County’s two largest health care institutions were caught up in Rivers Fever. See the sponsors in the Gazette ad to the right, explained in our Sept. 12, 2017 posting, “why are Ellis Medicine and MVP promoting Casino Gambling“.

My Comment at the Gazette webpage for Sara’ column, reproduced at the bottom of this posting, outlines my main reasons for being more worried than Sara is, despite GGR below projections. In particular, I fear:

  • It is almost certain that many Rivers Casino gamblers belong to demographic groups that are most unlikely to seek professional counseling for gambling issues, and do not show up in stats like those from Capital Counseling.
  •  Because 63.6% of total GGR in 2017 at Rivers Casino Schenectady was from slots and electronic table games, it seems very likely that a large proportion of the players at Rivers are older gamblers, susceptible to the Casino marketing, and  adverse to seeking mental health counseling. [See AARP Bulletin, Oct. 2016, “The Casino Trap: As the gambling industry booms, aggressive marketing targets older patrons”; and “Seniors and Problem Gambling“.
  • The low GGR numbers, and the almost certain low overall “visitation” numbers, mean that Rivers Casino is drawing almost all of its gamblers from a very small geographic area, and from repeat customers, many of whom are coming too often for the experience to merely be leisure entertainment.
    • While a manager at Rush Street Gaming’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse, the first general manager at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, Mary Cheeks, explained to the Pennsylvania gaming commission that they often had customers who came three or four times a week to SugarHouse. Casinos hope for such local repeat gamblers. They are the bread and butter of a regional casino not attracting the caviar set.

It seems most unlikely that significant numbers of people with problem gambling tendencies are seeking counseling. We cannot make believe that gambling addiction counseling will solve the problem gambling problem in our Community. We need both, but to deter the problems effectively, Prevention Trumps Counseling. As I argued in a posting for the 2016 Problem Gambling Awareness Month:

[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.

Comment of David Giacalone at the Gazette:

Thank you for this piece, Sara. I hope you are right that the increase in people seeking counseling corresponds with the actual increase in problem gamblers. A lot depends on the demographics of who is doing the gambling. Attitudes toward seeking counseling vary greatly among those most likely to be frequent casino visitors.
 .
Also, the relative lack of revenue and of success drawing people from a wide area, not to mention high rollers, means that the “victims” are coming from a small, very local geographic area. Rivers has not shared with us how many visitors it has attracted, after predicting an unreasonable 2.8 million visitors a year. The smaller the number of visitations, the more likely locals are heading to the Casino more than tourists (and, incidentally, the smaller the impact of the boasted “ripple effect” on local businesses).
 .
 My calculations show that total Slot & ETG Gross Gambling Revenue for 2017 at Rivers, $82.3 million, comprised 63.6% of total GGR. That is a lot of slot playing, and since slots and electronic table games are available at Saratoga Casino, that is predominantly local dollars and players.
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Thanks, Gramps! Also, because Slot revenues are taxed at 45%, but table and poker revenues at 10%, slot players are transfering their money to the State, County and City to reduce our taxes. Indeed, about 89% of the gambling tax paid by Rivers Casino comes from slot dollars. If slots are mostly played by senior citizens, any local tax break is mainly being paid for by Grandma and Grandpa and Auntie Tillie.
 .
Prevention Education to help people avoid problem gambling may be far more effective than counseling of those who admit they have the problem and have the means and commitment to utilize counseling. Schenectady County and the City sponsor no programs on Prevention Education, but instead leave this important social tool to the private sector, while glamorizing and normalizing casino gambling. See http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy
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Casino Projections vs. Casino Reality

 

RiversProjectionGame2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

TU compares revenue reality to casino projections

Lauren Stanforth has written a piece of investigatory journalism for the Albany Times Union, published yesterday at the top of the Sunday front page, on the dramatic shortfall of casino revenues from projections. See “State, local promises before casino vote a bust” (December 17, 2017). It points out that only the Schenectady City Council put actual projection numbers in a resolution, with a stated expectation of $5.7 million in annual tax gaming tax revenues for the City, and an 18% property tax reduction.
 .
 The City Council used NYS Dept. of Budget numbers for Regions, Counties, and Host Communities that were produced in 2013, announced in a press release (Oct. 2, 2013), to garner support for the Governor’s Constitutional Amendment Proposition, to permit non-Indian casinos. The numbers were, therefore, ginned up when the State did not know how many casinos there might actually be, nor where they would be located.
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The Resolution stated, in part [emphases added]:
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WHEREAS, as Host Municipality, the City of Schenectady is entitled to receive 5% of the gaming taxes paid by the Gaming Facility which is projected by the NYS Division of the Budget to be $5.7 million dollars annually; and
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WHEREAS, a $5.7 million Host Municipality payment to the City of Schenectady would result in a reduction in real estate taxes of approximately 18%; . . . 
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NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT
RESOLVED, that the Host Municipality payment received by the City of Schenectady will be used exclusively for the reduction of real property taxes in the City of Schenectady.
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  • At the time, we said at this website [in “Council ploy: all casino revenues will be used to reduce property taxes“, June 9, 2014] that “Th[e] Resolution is clearly meant to back the possible No Votes [on support for the Schenectady casino application] into a corner, by daring them to vote ‘no’ on a ‘tax reduction’.” In that context, using specific and huge numbers that appeared to come with the imprimatur of the State Budget office clearly strengthened the Mayor’s demand for Yes votes and the support in the very tax-conscious community for the casino. The Mayor was not able to convince Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi to vote for the Casino application, but they did agree that any tax revenues from the casino should be used to bring down real property taxes in Schenectady.
  •  At no time did City Council or the Mayor explain the tenuous connection between the DOB projections and an actual casino located in Schenectady, as opposed to a municipality with a greater potential to attract the public.
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The TU article notes that the State’s 2013 projections estimated that the Host County in the Capital Region would receive about $11.4 million dollars annually (with the Host City getting half of that amount), but that the actual numbers for this year appear to be about $3.7 million, a shortfall of $7.6 million. It also stresses, regarding the Schenectady Casino situation:
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“A casino was expected to bring in so much revenue — and the local government share to go along with it — that Schenectady would reduce property taxes 18 percent in the first year. Now, 10 months after the opening of Rivers Casino and Resort, the city is reducing taxes 1 percent.
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“Schenectady County predicted a similar scenario, its legislature passing a resolution three years ago saying county taxes might be reduced 8 percent if a casino opened. County officials are now reducing taxes 1 percent.”
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Reporter Stanforth interviewed local politicians, and informed us:
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Schenectady officials say their tax reduction promises were not disingenuous because they based their statements on the Budget Division’s numbers — and that property taxes are still being reduced.
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 But those who argued against a casino say the disparity between what was promised and the current reality reinforces their concerns that local officials had no intention of looking critically at information provided by the state or casino operators themselves.
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“They did it in bad faith,” said Schenectady resident David Giacalone, who lives in the city’s historic Stockade neighborhood and was one of the most vocal critics opposing a casino. “They knew these numbers meant nothing.”
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Catskills casino coming in 2018

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

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

 Last week, on December 8, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor announced its new General Manager, Rob Long. [Click for Times Union coverage, and the Gazette report.] Of course, Long cannot be expected to instantly bring in significantly greater revenue. But, his first week on the job must have brought some cold reality for Mr. Long, along with Schenectady’s first jolt of real winter weather. The week ending December 10, 2017 (see Revenues Chart at the Gaming Board) brought these milestones/millstones, although we had no crippling snowstorm:

  • Worst Table Game Drop figure ever [$3,362,547] – despite its Table Game seminars a couple months ago to lure players;
  • Worst Slot Machine GGR since June [$1,523,343];
  • 2nd worst total GGR since June [$2,388,276].

Neither the Gazette nor the Times Union, despite my sending them the information on December 8, has mentioned Rob Long’s record when he guided the development and opening of Rush Street’s very first casino, Riverwalk in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Gazette never mentioned that Long had been Manager of a Rush Street casino on a river in Vicksburg. But, as we wrote here in March of 2016, when opposing the naming of the main casino roadway in Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street”, Rush Street Gaming (with the same captains at the helm, owner Neil Bluhm, CEO Greg Carlin, and GM Rob Long):

 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.

 Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin touted Rob Long’s “well-established track record.” All I know about Long at this time is that:

  1. the riverside casino he ran for Rush Street Gaming in Mississippi opened in 2008;
  2. shortly thereafter, it requested an enormous reduction in its real estate appraisal, which was not granted; and
  3. it was sold in 2012 to Churchill Downs.

By the way, of the 19 Mississippi casinos located along the Mississippi River, Riverwalk was one of the only two facilities that were not forced to close in 2011 due to record flooding. Did Rush Street decide it would not press its luck?

  •  One more thing I did learn, Long’s Riverwalk Casino’s big fundraiser each year was “Bras for Breast Cancer”, which offered to pay a dollar for donated bras and strung the bras across the Old Highway 80 Mississippi River Bridge, with a special section featuring creatively decorated bras. Hey, we have a nearby bridge! 

QQ: Rush Street Gaming will not tell us, nor will Rob Long himself, but I sure would like to know what options the company discussed with its GM when planning for the near-future at Rivers Casino in Schenectady. When will they start considering jumping ship along the Mohawk? Not to mention, how happy is the landowner, Galesi Group, that they “designed” the Schenectady casino to be just boxes next to boxes, so the facility could easily be converted from a casino to just about anything?

 

Luck Ain’t No Lady: 38th week the worst yet at Rivers Casino

LUCKNOLADYhonest  According to the NYS Racing Commission revenues page for Rivers Casino, its 38th week (ending October 29, 2017), was the WORST week yet for the Schenectady Mohawk Harbor Casino. That’s despite having the Ellis Foundation’s big Women’s Night Out “Luck Be a Lady” event there on October 26, preceded by a prep-day of Table Game education in September. Of course, we can only guess the effect of several weeks of Mayor Gary McCarthy appearing in ubiquitous (and, for many of us, tacky and dispiriting) Fuccillo Auto ads shot at the Casino. Nonetheless, last week’s, take, $2,039,456, was perilously close to dipping below the $2-million mark. 

plungegraphsmY DOLLARS. This comes after Gazette columnist Sara Foss called this week for a review of the inflated revenue projections we got from the three new casinos in New York State. While this site was temporarily called “Stop the Schenectady Casino”, we pointed out the practice of over-promising revenues. That included, as even the Gazette reported prior to endorsing the Casino, that “In Philadelphia, for example, SugarHouse was projected to generate $320 million in gross revenue its first year but only generated $212 million.” 

casinowalkers BODIES. We hope that Foss or another journalist will look into the promises Rush Street made about how many people the Casino would bring to Schenectady. It projected 2.8 million a year. The fact that we have never been given any attendance numbers past the first couple of days suggests that the projected body-count was another cynical exaggeration. 

 

red check For those readers who are wondering how, after the Gazette endorsement of Porterfield, Farley and Mootooveren for City Council, to choose between John Mootooveren and Mohamed Hafez when using their third vote, I’d like to point out the following, regarding each man and the Casino:

Incumbent Councilman John Mootooveren:

  • JMootooverenHas acted as if Schenectady were a Supplicant, and a Second-Rate City, during the casino license application process, and thereafter, rubber-stamping the Mayor’s Supine Schenectady position, giving the Casino applicants their every wish, while making no demands. In contrast, all other potential casino locations use their leverage, to assure additional income from the casino, including mitigating its added expenses for infrastructure, public safety, and social problems; seeking guarantees of minimum revenue payments; and demanding local preference for jobs, and a buffer period in which property assessments would not be challenged by the developer.
  • Never questioned any claim made by the Casino applicants prior to voting to approve their Application for a Casino License in Schenectady as to projected revenue and the absence of likely negative effects.
  • Never sought an independent study of potential negative effects and realistic benefits, despite his claims of financial expertise.
  • And, never questioned or challenged any of the drastic changes in our zoning ordinance, demanded by Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. As a result, the Council and the Mayor took away the guarantee of public access in perpetuity to enjoyment of the riverbank when the harbor was developed, and the requirement that 10% of residential boat dock space be reserved during the day for the public.

In contrast, Candidate Mohamed Hafez:

  • MHafez Was a leader in the Stop the Schenectady Casino campaign, pointing out the many problems raised by locating a casino in an urban area and the need to fully consider likely problems and realistic benefits.
  • Demanded over and over, at City Council meetings, and in writing to the press, that the City use its leverage to demand/negotiate the best possible agreement with the Casino to maximize revenues and local employment, and minimize and offset added financial and social costs.
  • Wrote a letter to the editor we reprised here: “wise words from Mr. Hafez“; and
  • Asked the Mayor directly about host community agreements at a City Council meeting on May 11th, and at subsequent meetings, leading to the Mayor writing a guest column in the Gazette debunking the notion of having an HCA or needing to ask for any moneys in addition to required taxes, and our responding at length at this website. E.g., “the Lago Casino HCA and the Mayor.”

Empty Chair. One final note about the two candidates: Mohamed Hafez, a registered Democrat running on the Republican and IndependenceParty lines, attended every candidate forum during the current City Council election campaign. John Mootooveren, the incumbent Democrat who is 1/4th of the Mayor’s 4-person rubberstamp majority on the Council, failed to appear at the League of Women Voters forum, the Gazette Candidate forum at Proctors, the Woodlawn neighborhood association forum, and the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association meet the candidates event.

despite Billy Fuccillo, no HUGE casino revenues yet

 

 

. . above: Billy Fuccillo & Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy in a Fuccillo Automotive Group tv ad from the Rivers Casino, and Gary and Billy saying “H-u-u-ge!” . . 

September should have been a huge month for revenues at the Schenectady Rivers Casino, due to all the developments, hoopla and free press all summer, and a big push from extra-huge car salesman Billy Fuccillo since late August. The revenue stream should have been surging all September, given:

  • the mid-July opening of the Casino’s Landing Hotel (first guests arrived July 19), with lots of publicity for the Grand Opening, including the Vegas-style magical illusions of Steve Wyrick
  • arrival of the first “live-and-play here” tenants at River House
  • Billy Fuccillo getting the Keys to the City on July 20, and about a month later starting a series of ubiquitous tv ads, and related promotions, located at Rivers Casino and its The Landing hotel
  • the end of the Saratoga Racing season and any resultant loss of casino gambling in Schenectady
  • a sold-out first boxing event on September 23rd
  • the insistence of Rush Street officials and local political leaders that all of the above would result in greater revenues after the summer doldrums. See, e.g. the Times Union article “Schenectady still hopeful casino will pay off” (by Paul Nelson, Sept. 24, 2017)

 Nonetheless, despite that confluence of reasons to expect a great September, revenues declined all month — four weeks in a row, according to the Gross Gaming Revenues statement submitted yesterday (Oct. 7) to the NYS Racing Commission by Rivers Casino. [click on image to the right]

The actual revenue numbers did not prevent (or maybe they inspired) most candidates for the three contested seats on the Schenectady City Council to remind Gazette Forum audience that it takes three years for a casino’s revenues to stabilize and to make projections more accurate. [They do not say whether industry experience suggests the trend is for a higher or lower level of revenue stabilization after three years.]

 If you haven’t done so already, please see the two Times Union Sunday articles on disappointing casino revenues, published on September 24, 2017: Lauren Stanforth’s “Some bets are off at New York casinos: State’s three new gaming centers millions of dollars behind their first-year revenue projections”; and Paul Nelson’s local focus article (referred to above).

 Of course, David Giacalone, his friends and like-minded folk are not the likely targets of Rivers Casino promotions and ads. Nonetheless, I have to wonder how the Rush Street folks could think that opening their tv onslaught early this year with a Russian-mob impersonator, and now counting on Billy Fuccillo (who I have grown to value over the decades for his auto ads, but not for lifestyle advice) to broaden their appeal. Adding the un-telegenic presence of Hizzonner Gary McCarthy also seems unlikely to help turn Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor into a regional (much less national) tourist destination.

. . share with this tiny url: http://tinyurl.com/NoHugeRevenues

  •  Food For Thought (Regrets Category):  Have you noticed how much money nearby counties are getting without having to deal with the problems of having an urban casino in their midst? Or having the fear of their casino failing, or the embarrassment of their politicians bending over backwards to please the Casino or find misleading reasons for optimism? Those of us who thought the risks of an urban casino were too great to warrant gambling that a Schenectady casino would yield the promised revenues would be pleased to merely take the trickle-down payments given to nearby counties.

     Thus, even with the disappointing revenues to date, Rensselaer County had already received $403,750 by the end of July — approximately what Schenectady County would have received already, since it has a very similar population. And, if the Casino had gone to the much more deserving Howe’s Caverns applicant in Schoharie County, Schenectady would have been the closest significant source of employees, and the State would have a commercial casino sans the extra risks that urban casinos bring.  Here’s a look (from the August 21, 2017 Gazette) at how much Rivers Casino has meant to local municipalities from its state gaming tax dollars through July, according to state Gaming Commission numbers:

    • Education: $17.9 million
    • City of Schenectady: $1.1 million
    • Schenectady County: $1.1 million
    • Albany County: $770,388
    • Fulton County: $140,630
    • Montgomery County: $127,178
    • Rensselaer County: $403,750
    • Saratoga County: $556,148
    • Schoharie County: $82,936
    • Washington County: $160,092

BZA denies variance for oversized Harbor pylon

variance denied, then allowed

update: After Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen literally begged them for “a favor”, they changed their mind: “BZA’s pylon flip-flop – a change from 221″ wide to 220″ wide!” (Nov. 16, 2017).

Yesterday evening, October 4, 2017, the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals denied the request of Mohawk Harbor’s Paul Fallati for a variance to permit a 30-foot-tall pylon sign alongside Erie Blvd, at Mohawk Harbor Way, that had a large LCD screen and 22 lighted “tenant signs”. BZA did grant a variance for a “monument’ sign at the entrance to Mohawk Harbor, on the south side of the intersection. The variance is needed because the Zoning Code only permits freestanding signs 7′ tall in the C-3 Waterfront district for signs that are not casino-related. 

For more details and discussion of the issues see our earlier posting “updates on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs“.

update (Oct. 5, 2017): According to the Daily Gazette, “The board rejected the plan for the 30-foot sign by a vote of 4-2, said Avi Epstein, the city’s zoning officer.” In addition:

The proposal was denied because the board felt it would cause an undesirable change in the surrounding neighborhood, and that the applicant could achieve the purpose of the signage through another method, City Planner Christine Primiano said.

why are Ellis Medicine and MVP promoting Casino Gambling?

 Have you seen this ad, which has been appearing recently in the Schenectady Daily Gazette?

As you can see above, Rivers Casino is offering hour-long “Gaming Lessons” for those wanting to “Learn Table Games: Craps, Roulette, Blackjack, Poker.” That is, of course, not at all surprising. Nor, despite its motto “reinvent your life,” is it surprising that 50+Living, a Gazette subsidiary, is “presenting” the Gaming Lessons Program, and featuring it on their website. (The Gazette has been part of the Casino’s primary cheerleader squad since our City Council voted to approve the application of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group for a gaming license in 2014.)

 What is both surprising and rather sad, however, are the other pillars of our community that have apparently joined the Casino’s harem: There are only two other Sponsors for the Gaming Lessons in addition to Rivers Casino: Ellis Medicine and MVP (f/k/a Mohawk Valley Physicians’ Health Plan). That’s right, Schenectady County’s two leading health care institutions are lending their reputations and stature, and their reach into the community through affiliated physicians and other practitioners, thousands of employees, and hundreds of thousands of patients/subscribers, to the promotion of gambling in Schenectady.

LessonsSponsors15SepPG-LessonsAdCollage  update (Sept. 15, 2017): The ad for Gaming Lessons in today’s Daily Gazette has removed the Ellis Medicine and MVP Health Care logos from the sponsors section of the ad. See the detailed update at the bottom of this posting.

 It seems fair to ask, “What ever are they thinking?!”. And, giving them the benefit of the doubt, what kind of pressure have MVP and Ellis received from the City, County and Metroplex to enhance the Casino’s status in our community, and perhaps bolster its flagging revenues? It seems unlikely to me that sponsoring gaming lessons is an initiative that originated within Ellis or MVP’s hierarchy or health care staff.

Organizing “Gaming Lessons” was not exactly the sort of education we had in mind during Problem Gambling Awareness Month, earlier this year, when we wrote at this site:

 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.

 . . click for Sara Foss’ Gazette column (Feb. 5, 2017)

For two years, I have been waiting for Schenectady’s public and private sectors to start making problem gambling prevention a serious priority, through educating the community (and not merely settling for feeble intervention efforts at the Casino itself). Given the explicit commitment of both Ellis and MVP to Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health promotion and MEB disorder prevention, sponsorship of Problem Gambling Prevention Education seemed like a likely path for both institutions. 

  • MEB [Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral] health disorders include but are not limited to: substance use disorders, mental illness, suicide, and problem gambling.

 Just last month, MVP appointed a new Vice President for Mental Health in order to “further MVP’s commitment to more holistically integrating behavioral health into traditional medical models and creating the best possible outcomes for MVP’s members with behavioral health diagnoses.”

 More specifically, in response to Schenectady County’s highest in the region male suicide rates (2nd highest for females), and highest in the region Emergency Department visits and hospitalizations for mental disease and disorder, Ellis has announced, as a cornerstone element of its Prevention Agenda, an “Ellis Implementation Strategy . . . with a simultaneous emphasis on suicide prevention and on broad support for Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health services.” See “New York State 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment and Improvement Plan and Community Service Plan for Schenectady County”, at 30. 

“A friend in need”- C.M.Coolidge.

 Furthermore, according to its Alliance for Better Health Care project workbook, Ellis Medicine also aims to “Participate in Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health promotion and MEB disorder prevention partnerships.” That includes efforts to “Support collaboration among leaders, professionals, and community members working in MEB health promotion to address substance abuse and other MEB disorders.” Prominent sponsorship of Gaming Lessons may be a community partnership, but it does not appear likely to advance Ellis’ stated MEB goals. 

 Certainly, the leaders of the Ellis and MVP organizations are aware of the issue of Problem Gambling, and especially its increased prevalence when an urban community gets its first casino, making repeat visits much easier, and social pressure to participate stronger, as casino gaming is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity. [For a discussion of the issues and research, with links to many programs and resources, see our posting at http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy.] Rather than helping to combat problem gambling before it infects a gambler and family, by sponsoring training to familiarize and glamorize casino table games, MVP and Ellis seem to be casting an aura of good health upon Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. What are they thinking?

  •    50+Living has a catchy tagline, “reinvent your life.” But, the meaning of that phrase seems compromised when its website has a large ad for the Gaming Lessons program at the top of every page, in its right margin, with a link to its registration form. We might even wonder just what that woman is wishing for when she blows the seeds off a dandelion. Retirement, aging, and loneliness can often amplify the risk of gambling becoming a problem that upsets the lives of many seniors and their families. Shouldn’t 50+Living use its forum to help its target audience avoid those risks? See, e.g., this Guide for Older Gamblers.

“Problem Gambling” means gambling behaviors that result in serious negative consequences to the gambler, and his or her family and friends, employer, or community. [See New York Council on Problem Gambling] In additional to its impact on the gambler herself or himself, problem gambling can especially affect the gambler’s family and friends. It can affect people in any age, racial, or economic group, but youth (kidsadolescents and college students) and senior citizens are thought to be particularly at-risk. [click on each topic link for a brochure prepared by the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)]

If Ellis Medicine, MVP, and 50+Living would truly like to help our community’s education regarding the existence of a full-service casino in our midst, they should take advantage of an impressive trove of materials already already in existence about preventing and treating problem gambling, and nurturing healthy attitudes and low-risk behaviors relating to gambling. For example:

  1.     Click the thumbnail on the left for a full-page pdf poster created for physicians and other health care providers by the National Council on Problem Gambling, suggesting three simple questions to ask a patient to help determine if there might be a gambling problem, with contact information for resources.
  2.  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 to assist in “having the conversation” with friends, employees, family, etc., about problem gambling. See and download the Have the Conversation Toolkit.
  3. Youth are thought to be particularly at risk of developing problem gambling disorders. And, Rush Streets seems particularly interested in attracting younger gamblers. See our posting,“what will the casino mean for Union College students?“; and a Union College handout on college students and gambling. Both MVP and Ellis should consider joining forces with the New York Council on Problem Gambling, with public school districts in the City and County, and with Union College to utilize existing materials aimed at adolescents and youth, or to create programs tailored to the Schenectady area and Capital District.
  4. And, click these links to find more problem gambling resources, on this website, “snowmen at the gates,” and on Facebook: NYCouncilonProblemGambling,  KnowTheOddsYouthDecideNY

If you feel that our community deserves more appropriate action by Ellis and MVP with regard to gambling education and partnerships with Rivers Casino, please let them know. You might ask whether they have better ways to spend their resources and lend their reputations.

To Contact Ellis Medicine, click here; to contact MVP, click here; and to contact 50+Living, click here.

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

Postscript By itself, the decision by the Foundation for Ellis Medicine to hold its 2017 Women’s Night Out celebration dinner at Rivers Casino & Resort may be harmless, even if the “Luck Be a Lady” slogan is a bit condescending. However, in conjunction with the Gaming Lessons project, this “premier networking environment” among Schenectady’s upper crust, seems like an unnecessary additional signal that the Rivers Casino is a glamorous and civic-minded part of our community.

deskdude Update (September 15, 2017): Around noon today, I sent the following email message to Capital Region Media members and others interested in the topic, relaying the good news that Ellis and MVP were no longer listed as Sponsors of the Gaming Lessons project at Rivers Casino.

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Gazette covers half-year Casino revenues

Today’s Schenectady Daily Gazette has an informative article headlined “A look at Rivers Casino’s gaming numbers 6 months after opening” (by Brett Samuels, August 21, 2017). It includes a “look at how much Rivers Casino has paid out to local municipalities in state gaming tax through July.” For Casino Realists like myself, here’s the core of the article:

 If business continues at its current pace, the city and county would each get a little more than $2 million in gaming money at year’s end. As has been the case from the start, the casino appears poised to fall well short of what was expected by each government entity.

In budgeting for 2017, the city and county both used the low-end projection from the casino’s application and pro-rated it to a March opening. That leaves each government expecting about $2.75 million in gaming revenue for 2017. Gaming revenue is expected to stabilize by 2019.

 Of course, we need to ask: “Stabilize” at what level? And, we might also ask what Schenectady County spokesman Joe McQueen means when he says that “thanks to the infusion of casino money, . .the county is now expecting to see about $855,000 in annual savings.” Is this figure based on some sort of “netting out” of revenues received due to added expenses and reduced receipts from other sources, such as sales or property taxes because of the Casino’s Substitution Effect?

  • As we wrote here more than three years ago, research by the successful citizens’ group “No Downtown Casino” in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, led them to conclude in their Position Statement

    Greater negative financial impact on nearby businesses – the good numbers go down.

    Studies show that property values near a casino decrease by 10% or more once the casino opens. Part of the reason for that is because the casino never closes. It operates 24/7. Commercial buildings, apartment buildings, condominiums, etc. decrease in value which means over time they pay lower property taxes. Research also shows that 60% of businesses that existed before the casino opens, go out of business within 2 years of the casino opening. Lost jobs. Lost taxes. Failed entrepreneurs. Empty storefronts.

It may be too early for such effects to be apparent in Schenectady, but we need to be vigilant when speaking about how much the Casino has enhanced our tax coffers.

first lap of the Casino Horse Race

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

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

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

 

another sneaky pylon ploy?

WHAT? Mohawk Harbor (Maxon Alco Holdings) is asking the Schenectady Planning Commission for permission to put up a 32′ by 14′ pylon (including an LED screen atop it 12′ by 6′ in size), and to construct a “monument sign” 40′ wide and 10′ high. WHERE? One on each side of the entryway of Mohawk Harbor, on Mohawk Harbor Way, at its intersection with Erie Boulevard. WHEN? On the Planning Commission Agenda, August 16, 2017, August 16, 2017, at 6:30 PM, in Room 110, City Hall, 105 Jay Street, Schenectady, NY 12305.

For Issues and Analysis, please see: “update on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs” (Aug. 11, 2017)

 I spent the past few days trying to get a look at Mohawk Harbor’s new application to the City of Schenectady Planning Commission to put a pylon sign structure and a so-called monument sign at the Mohawk Harbor Way entrance from Erie Boulevard into Mohawk Harbor. Maxon Alco Holdings, which is part of the Galesi Group of companies, is the official owner of the land at Mohawk Harbor.  I started looking when I saw this agenda item on the Planning Commission’s Agenda for August 16, 2017:

B. MAXON ALCO HOLDINGS LLC requests a Special Use Permit and sign approval pursuant to Section 264-61 I and 264-89 D of a proposal to install a pylon style sign with an electronic message board at the entrance to Mohawk Harbor, tax parcel # 39.49-2-1.2 located in a “C-3” Waterfront Mixed Use District.

 Items are not supposed to be placed on the Commission agenda until staff determines that the application is complete. Therefore, I expected it to be easy to take a look at the Pylon Application. After being told for a couple days that, “of course” they had the submission since the item is on the Agend, but it could not be found, I learned today that the submission did not arrive until today, Friday, August 4. The applications — one for a “monument sign” and one for a pylon sign — were actually dated yesterday, August 3, including the technical drawings. And, in fact, late in the afternoon, a corrected replacement sketch of the pylon sign was submitted by Saxton SignCorp and Mohawk Harbor’s representative Paul Fallotti. The top portion of the pylon sign sketch was changed from an LED screen showing the casino floor to a screen merely saying “Mohawk Harbor.” (See image to the right of this paragraph.) I do not know if or how often the “branding sign” will vary its message or how animated its images will be.  The signage below the LED screen on the proposed pylon are panels with the names of business at MH and they will be lit. The LED screen will change message, advertising events and businesses within the MH complex.

  •  update (Aug. 11, 2017): Christine Primiano gave me some helpful information this morning about the applications and likely timing and process. See “update on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs.” The Commission or its staff apparently concur with the arguments below about the need for variances due to the excessive size of the signs, and there will be no approval or denial of the applications at the August meeting. The Board of Zoning Appeals is expected to have needed variance requests on its October agenda.

Principal City Planner Christine Primiano, who would surely have explained the situation to me and others seeking to see the submission sooner if she were not on a much-needed vacation, wrote to submission seekers this afternoon, after being contacted by her staff. Christine explained that she had posted the Agenda before leaving on vacation rather than waiting until today, to get it up in a timely manner. However, Maxon Holding had not yet submitted its application, but promised to do so by Monday July 31, in her absence. Unfortunately, the Applicant took until today to finally submit an application (which I personally consider to be inadequate, for reasons given below). Christine does not plan to review it until back on Monday, August 7, and I hope she enjoys the weekend.

 . . . proposed pylon at entrance to Mohawk Harbor at Erie Blvd. and Mohawk Harbor Way. Dimensions: 32′ H and 14′ wide, with an LED screen 12′ wide by 6′ high. Click for the pylon portion of the Aug. 3, 2017 Application.

Readers of this weblog might recall that its proprietor has not been pleased over the past couple years with the handling of the casino pylon issue at Mohawk Harbor by the Galesi Group and the Casino Gang at Rush Street, nor by the Planning Commission and City Council. So, I started out a bit doubtful when I heard of a new pylon submission, having predicted in March 2016 that we had not seen the end of the zombie pylon at Mohawk Harbor. But, the tardy submission of the application materials is not the real problem here, as I see it, except that it continues to show that Galesi Group seems to get special treatment by the Planning Office. Why the “rush” again? There is no “deadline” of any sort any different than that facing any business wanting to put up new signage. More important, it seems yet again clear that the Galesi Group/Maxon Alco Holding does not give sufficient respect to the responsibilities of the Planning Office and the rights of the public.

Sched1SignReg The more substantive issue raised by the application for a pylon sign and a monument sign (click for that application) is symbolized by the last-minute correction to the LED screen at the top of the pylon: This is not a casino-related set of signage applications. Therefore, although it is within the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District, it does not benefit from the exemption to Article IX of the Schenectady zoning code (Chapter 264), which sets forth signage regulations for all (non-casino) Schenectady businesses, including specifications for allowed signage in the various zoning districts, in §264-61(K), Schedule I. Click on the thumbnail image at the left of this paragraph to see Schedule I.

 In 2015, Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, led by Galesi CEO David Buicko, pressured City Hall to eviscerate its Waterfront C-3 zoning. A major component of the nearly-felonious amendments (which stole the public’s guarantee of access to and enjoyment of the riverbank) was the granting of signage amounts, including the height of pylon signs, far greater than the original C-3 limits, and the exclusion of “a casino gaming facility and ancillary uses” from application of Article IX’s signage regulation.  Here’s the actual wording (as seen also in the Code section printed above), with emphases added:

C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District (as amended 2/2015)

http://www.ecode360.com/documents/SC0901/source/LF957479.pdf

H. Supplemental C- 3 Regulations.

 Notwithstanding anything contained within this Zoning Chapter to the contrary, Article IX – Signs shall not be applicable to a casino gaming facility and ancillary uses. 

1) Maximum allowable signage shall be 19,000 square feet for a casino gaming facility and its ancillary facilities, attached hotel, parking garage and pylon signs. Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C- 3 District shall be reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Plan Approval process. Multi – sided pylon signs shall be permitted, with a height not to exceed 80 feet. Square footage for a multi -sided pylon sign shall be the square footage of its single largest side. Signage on any one side of a pylon sign may not exceed 70% of the face of the pylon sign, on that same side. 

This means that even in the C-3 zoning district, non-casino-related signs must comply with the requirements, definitions, and restrictions of Article IX, including the specifications in Schedule I. Mohawk Harbor signage has limits similar to businesses throughout the City that do not happen to be in the Favored Casino Business. This detail from Schedule I shows the most relevant portion:

ScheduleI-detail

That means, for example, that the following definitions apply to the Mohawk Harbor signage applications now before the Planning Commission:

Schenectady Code §264-60 Definitions http://www.ecode360.com/8692182#8692226

FREESTANDING SIGN — A self-supporting sign standing alone on its own foundation.

MONUMENT SIGN — A freestanding sign attached to a brick, stone, or masonry wall or structure that forms a supporting base for the sign display.

PYLON SIGN — A sign that has a base that is a minimum of three feet wide and a maximum of five feet wide. At no time can the message portion exceed eight feet wide.

SHOPPING CENTER — A group of three or more retail and commercial units on a single site, constructed and managed as a total entity, sharing a common on-site parking area.

[Editor’s note: “Pylon signs” and “monument sign” are considered “Freestanding Signs” in the sign industry (examples here and there) and fit into the definition of that term in the Schenectady Code.]

Therefore, a non-casino pylon sign may have a base with a maximum width of five feet and its message portion may not be more than 8 feet wide. The requested special use permit for a 32′ by 14′ pylon structure, with its LED screen of 12′ by 6′, must therefore be rejected by this Commission, as inconsistent with the zoning code. An “area variance” is needed before a special use permit may be granted. Under NYS GCT Law §81-b, an Area Variance is “the authorization by the zoning board of appeals for the use of land in a manner which is not allowed by the dimensional or physical requirements of the applicable zoning regulations.” For the factors to be considered before granting an area variance, see the quotes and discussion at the foot of this posting.*

  • red check It is the Zoning Board of Appeals, not the Planning Commission, which is authorized to hear a request for an area variance. This same Area Variance requirement also applies to the Monument Sign application. Click here to see the Area Variance Application form at Schenectady’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

  . . . proposed “monument sign” for the entryway to Mohawk Harbor Way; click to see the Application.

As for the Monument Sign proposed by Maxon Alco Holdings, at 40′ W and 10′ H, it exceeds the 7′ maximum for a freestanding sign in the C-3 district, and with its great width, also greatly exceeds the maximum square footage permitted in Schedule I. As such, the application belongs before the Zoning Board of Appeals, not the Planning Commission.

As always, I hope the Planning Commission and the Planning Office will step up and enforce the Schenectady Zoning Code in a manner that preserves public safety, aesthetics, and the general public interest.  A casino may be a special kind of business that arguably needs extra hoopla and lights and action, or City Hall might have felt two years ago that it must do everything asked of it by the Mohawk Harbor/Casino Gang. But, there is nothing about condos, office buildings and regular retail and bars that calls for allowing signs multiples larger than other businesses are permitted.

Nor should the Commission ignore the public safety aspects of placing an often-changing LED screen in a place where it can be a distraction or cause glare for drivers or residents. The special findings required before an electric message sign is permitted everywhere else in the City, therefore, must also be applied to the current application:

§264-61(I)(2). A special use permit must be approved upon a showing by the applicant at a public hearing of the City Planning Commission that the proposed electronic message board shall not substantially impact upon the nature and character of the surrounding neighborhood, upon traffic conditions and any other matters affecting the health, safety and general welfare of the public.

For a discussion of “Variables for evaluating the safety of electronic message displays along urban roadways” see my posting at  tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors

We will keep you apprised as the applications proceed in the Planning Commission, or perhaps Board of Zoning Appeals, process. For example, see “update on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs” (August 11, 2017).

_______________________________________________

*Factors for Granting an Area Variance, per NYS GCT Law §81-b:

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new high (big rush) at Rivers Casino

 Lucky Coincidence? Just as the Schenectady Gazette ran an editorial urging that we “Give it more time for revenue from Rivers Casino” (July 17, 2017), Schenectady’s Casino was ending its best week ever for Gross Gambling Revenue. The week ending July 16, 2017, its 23rd week in business at Mohawk Harbor, saw GGR of $3,882,454. That is the best week since its first full week in business back in February.

  • Oddly, although the take last week was up 36.8% from a relatively good prior week, both Slots GGR and Poker Table GGR were down. All of the impressive increase came from Table Games, which had a GGR of $2,039,456. It was the first time Table Game gross gambling revenue was over two million dollars. Did a party of high-rollers (maybe the Bluhm Clan in town for the Casino’s Hotel opening) show up last week to let the good times roll?
  • Or, did Billy Fuccillo show up to throw a huuuge party at the craps tables?

Whatever the reason, after giving space to the many poor GGR weeks at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, I thought we should spotlight today it oddly good news. I’m not sure, however, if even six more months of weeks like Week 23 would meet Rush Street’s happy projections or even the County’s sober first-year hopes.

 follow-up (Aug. 6, 2017): See “first lap of the Casino Horse Race.”

 

good at gaming the system: from cash cow to cow chips

When it comes to gaming the political system for tax breaks and special perks, it’s hard to beat the gaming industry. In New York State, there are different rules and tax rates for its full-blown casinos, video-gaming racinos, and Indian casinos. Such factors help complicate the casino industry’s tax-gaming game, making for increased melodrama, campaign contributions, and lobbyist income.

. . share this post with a shorter URL: http://tinyurl.com/CashCowChips

Last week, the Times Union reported, in Harness tracks, racinos, feel the heat from casinos” (by Rick Karlin, June 18, 2017), that:

 Jeff Gural, majority owner of the troubled Vernon Downs harness track and video lottery game “racino” in Vernon, Oneida County, said he would have to close his doors this fall if he didn’t get a tax break. [note: Mr. Gural is a major contributor to Gov. Cuomo.]

And, today, the Schenectady Gazette published “2 harness track racinos look to state for relief“ (by John Cropley, June 19, 2017), and noted:

Two harness racing tracks that host electronic casino operations are looking to the state for help amid increased competition from the proliferation of casinos across upstate New York.

One piece of legislation would allow Saratoga Casino Hotel in Saratoga Springs to use 4 percent of its net win for capital improvements.

Another would increase the percentage of the net win retained by Vernon Downs Casino Hotel in Vernon, near Utica.. . .

Both bills have been approved by the state Senate but have been sitting in committee in the state Assembly. The 2017 legislative session is scheduled to end Wenesday.

In response to this year’s crop of Gaming Groveling and Gambits, the Times Union published a Sunday editorial, “No subsidies for the casinos” (premium online content).

The Issue:

Citing financial problems, an upstate gaming venue seeks a tax break.

The Stakes:

Taxpayers should not have to support cash cows that morph into albatrosses.

“Lets be clear what a tax cut means: A loss of revenue that other taxpayers have to make up. It will be what casino proponents insisted would never happen: state taxpayers subsidizing gaming halls that were supposed to be cash cows.”

The TU editorial concludes: “Certainly it’s fair to find equitable ways to spread the benefits so that hard-pressed local economies like Oneida County’s don’t suffer. What’s unfair is to ask taxpayers to continually cover venues for the bad bets they’re proving to be.”

No matter what happens in this Legislative session, I’m betting that billionaire Neil Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming minions here at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor are already looking into ways to reduce their gaming and property taxes and gain advantages over their casino and racino competition. That is what they have always done at other casino venues, in good times and bad.  Best bets for Boo-Hooing from Rush Street:

  • using the failure to meet their revenue projections as the justification for seeking a reduction in the gaming tax revenue rate
  • pointing to lower gaming tax revenue rates at racinos and at other casinos (under Legislative compromises meant to aid locations in less populated or poorer areas) as “unfair” competitive advantages for their competitors
  • challenging property tax assessments whether or not they are having financial success

Unlike casino owners elsewhere, Rush Street has made no promise in Schenectady about putting off challenging property assessments. Here’s what the Worster Massachusetts VoteNoSlots group said a couple years ago about Rush Street and taxes:

At each of their four casinos, Rush Street Gaming has either fought to have its property assessment reduced, or threatened to reduce it:

  • As soon as Rush Street opened Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi, it fought to have its property assessment reduced from $78 million to $30 million.
  • Almost as soon as they opened Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, they began lobbying to have their property assessment HALVED, and have continued to do it every single year.
  • The city of Philadelphia also was involved in a legal dispute with Sugarhouse Casino over property tax.
  • If the state (of Illinois) approves a Chicago casino or slots at horse tracks, then Bluhm wants to be able to add more slot machines and pay lower tax rates in Des Plaines. “We absolutely need both,” Bluhm said when asked whether he would accept one without the other. “We couldn’t possibly survive. The numbers won’t work. If we just lower tax rates and couldn’t expand, we would be crushed.”

As we reported here when arguing against naming the primary road into Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street,” after failing in their campaign to achieve the 60% reduction in their property tax assessment they had sought in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Rush Street sold their Riverwalk Casino, in 2012, just four years after it opened.

But, Rush Street Gaming doesn’t have to be doing poorly to try to avoid taxes. As reported in some detail just last year at BetterGov.org, in “Rivers Casino’s Jackpot: $1 Million Property Tax Break” (by Chuck Newbauer & Sandy Bergo):

RiversDPCasinoWindfall

Rivers Des Plaines

The owners of the wildly successful Rivers Casino in Des Plaines have received more than $4 million in property tax cuts since opening nearly five years ago, by aggressively arguing that the property was worth tens of millions of dollars less than it cost to buy and build on.

Since 2012, Rivers has reported annual revenues of more than $400 million, after winnings, state records show. Its revenues are twice as large as any of the other nine Illinois casinos.

Despite their success, the Rivers owners claim the value of the casino and parking garage has declined, justifying tax relief. . . .

Tellingly, several successive reductions by the elected Cook County Review Board (from $104 M to $88 M each year) “is not enough” for Rivers Casino in Des Plaines: “The owners have gone to court seeking refunds of taxes paid in three previous years, arguing the assessments are still too high.” Rush Street’s primary owner Neil Bluhm is a well-known contributor and “bundler” in the Democratic Party. Although he did not donate to the Cook County’s elected Board members, his tax attorneys and appraisal firms have given substantial amounts.

The BetterGov.org article also makes a point similar to the Times Union Editors:

Whatever the case, the casino’s gain is their neighbors’ loss. Home owners and other property owners in Des Plaines and some surrounding communities have to pick up the slack to fund budgets for local schools, parks and other local government expenses to make up for the Rivers tax cuts.

Beyond property assessments, Rush Street Gaming is definitely not shy about efforts to change the rules in place when it received its casino license. For example, it has tried strenuously to fend off competition to its successful SugarHouse Casino from a second Philadelphia casino, although the State Legislature had for many years envisioned the second casino. First, it said the State Racing Commission could not re-issue the license after the first licensee failed to get necessary funding. That stalled the competition for years, before the argument was rejected by the State Supreme Court. “Pa. High Court Affirms Propriety of 2nd Philly Casino License” (Law360.ocm, by Alex Wolf). Nonetheless, SugarHouse’s lawyers have raised other issues in court, which have stalled the large South Philadelphia casino project even further. See  “Whatever happened with that South Philly casino?” (Billpenn.com, by Anna Orso, Jan. 6, 2017). Expectations are that SugarHouse and the other plaintiffs will lose again, but its Rush Street owners have “won” several years of added profits by operating as the only casino in that big town.

  . . click for cash cow cartoons & cow chips cartoons 
From Cash Cow to Cow Chips, Are they Too Important to Let Fail in Schenectady? Should Rivers Casino Schenectady start to seem more like a Cow Chip Factory than a Cash Cow, you can count on the local leaders who bet their reputations on the Mohawk Harbor casino to help in efforts at the State and local level to seek subsidies of various kinds to alleviate Mr. Bluhm’s suffering. It would be an amusing drama to watch, if it weren’t so important (and predictable). Stay tuned.

another nadir on the River (with updates & lowdowns)

(update: June 23, 2017): Rivers Casino in Schenectady set yet another new low for revenue generation in the week ending June 11, 2017, its 18th week in operation at Mohawk Harbor. Its net revenues were $2,062,162, down 23% from the prior week, and almost $100K below its previous low-point.

RiversRev23June2017

. . is our favorite Cash Cow becoming a Cow Chip factory? casinocowchips

. . and see, “psst: the casino cash cow has too many calves” (June 21, 2014)

Original Posting

 In its 15th week in operation, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady set a stunning new low for overall net revenues at: $2,129,115, with slots income also the lowest to date, and poker table GRR under $100,000 [$99,503]. Here’s screen shot of its Report for the week ending May 21, 2017, which was posted late due to the Memorial Day weekend:

Meanwhile, at the Times Union, reporter Paul Nelson’s latest article is headlined “Poker winner nets $46k at Rivers Casino” (online May 29, 2017). I do not know whether that is a lot of money for a tournament that Rivers Casino General Manager Mary Cheeks says “attracted 1,095 players from seven states and Canada, exceeding expectations.” Ms. Cheeks is also quoted saying:

 “We had a fantastic turnout for the Capital Region Classic, and we heard a lot of positive feedback from players who have been looking for big poker tournaments in this area for years,”

Of course, this is the same Casino that keeps telling us how satisfied it is with revenues and attendance so far, despite averaging far below, and never yet meeting, the weekly average GRR it needs to make the lowered expectations it projected for its first year in operation.

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