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.
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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.
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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%; . . . 
 .
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:
 .
“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. [emphasis added]
Sadly, our City Hall has given us a Social Studies and Political Science lesson for the ages here in Schenectady. I wonder if this TU article has given the Gazette any ideas about doing a little casino-related investigation of its own. Perhaps a spotlight on the Applicants’ projection of 2.8 million visitors coming annually to Schenectady because of Rivers Casino needs a bit of investigation. More significantly, perhaps looking into the ways the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals have twisted (diminished? castrated?) our Zoning Code to please the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming might be more important in the long run.
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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, after begging by Ray Gillen

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.

. . use this short URL to share this post: tinyurl.com/RiversNadir

Rivers Casino hits a new low for revenues

 Schenectady’s Rivers Casino’s 12th week in operation generated its worst revenues figures so far: GRR $2,237,542. That was 11.6% lower than its prior worst week, which ended April 16. Slots dollars were the lowest yet. And, last week’s poker dollars were down from the prior week:

 

Despite revenues going down for the 8th time in 10 weeks, Rivers Casino’s Schenectady General Manager, Mary Cheeks, had this conversation with TU food columnist Steve Barnes:

 Q: How has Rivers performed in its first three months, and how does that compare to company projections?

A: I have no complaints. We’re still in ramp-up mode, so I’m fine with what we’re achieving so far, and we’re making changes as warranted.

Also:

Q: What do your demographics show about where Rivers patrons are coming from?

A: Primarily from the Capital Region, but surprisingly enough to me, as someone who’s been in this business for 27-plus years, is the large amount we have coming from beyond 120 miles. Since the casino’s hotel isn’t open yet, we’re assuming most of them are day-trippers, not lodgers.

Q: The casino operates 24 hours a day. Is there really enough business to warrant that?

A: Yes.

Q: For example, on average, how many patrons are on the gambling floor at 3 a.m. on a Monday or Tuesday?

A: I’d have to guess at least 300, but it’s not just for gambling. [restaurants and lounge also open]

  • Personal Note: Why am I not a journalist? I do not have the poker face to deal with statistics-free generalities or half-answers, much less the unanswered questions.

Also, have you wondered about the size of payouts at Rivers Casino Mohawk Harbor:

Q: What is the biggest largest payout at Rivers so far?

A.  It was $47,000 on a slot machine.

Q: What was the biggest at the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh casinos in the 5 years that you handled both of them?

A. In Pittsburgh, $150,000, ad $100,000 in Philadelphia.

Poker strategy stumbles along the Mohawk (with updates)

 . . Rivers Casino Poker Room

 Despite good media coverage and optimism for River Casino’s roll-out of daily Poker Tournaments last week (see Times Union & Gazette), Schenectady’s Mohawk Harbor Casino posted record-low weekly revenue numbers for the second week in a row, with generated dollars down for the 7th time in 8 weeks. Total GGR for the week ending April 16, 2017 was merely $2,532,004, down  5.2% from the prior week’s nadir. Indeed, its Poker Table GRR during its first week of daily tournaments went down 12.9% from the prior week. And, slots GRR tumbled another 9.7%. Meanwhile, Capital Region competitor, Saratoga Casino and Hotel saw a 6.0% drop from its prior week’s Net Win numbers.

  •  For more information and discussion about revenues at the Mohawk Harbor Casino, see our posting on April 7, 2017, which has relevant charts and links; short URL: http://tinyurl.com/RiversDown . (Image at head of this blurb is  detail from C. M. Coolidge’s “A Friend in Need”.)

update (April 22, 2017, 12 AM): See “Income falls at Rivers, Saratoga: Gross revenues from gaming off more than 5% in week’s stretch” (Times Union, by Eric Anderson, April 22, 2017), which noted:

For Rivers, it’s the lowest weekly revenue figure since its opening in early February, and it came despite a series of poker tournaments during the week.

The poker room has been popular among casino customers, officials have said.

Observers have suggested that extensive roadwork on Erie Boulevard outside the casino may have played a part in the decline. . . .

The casinos haven’t released attendance figures, so it’s not clear how the restaurant and other food outlets have performed.

follow-up (April 28, 2017): Finally some good news for Rivers Casino Schenectady and those counting on its revenue stream. For the week ending April 23, 2017, GGR were $2,866,673, up 11.6% from last week’s lowest-ever figures. See the Official Weekly Report. A screen shot of the April numbers is immediately below this blurb. The Net Win figures up the road at Saratoga Casino were up 3.9%.

RiversRevs28Apr2017

revenues last week worst yet at Rivers Casino in Schenectady

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

RiversRevsTo09Apr2017

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

print “His Station” by Coolidge

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

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

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

record decline at Rivers Casino Schenectady

 

For the fifth time in six weeks, week-to-week net revenues at Rivers Casino in Schenectady declined last week. [see the composite Report to the right; and the Official Weekly Report.] The 19.8% fall in revenues, down to $2,897,721, was the largest to date at the Casino, which opened February 8. While Rivers Schenectady saw a significant decline, revenues at nearby Saratoga Casino edged up 1.8% to a Net Win of $2,858,905. (Compare the figures reported March 31, 2017 by the Times Union’s Eric Anderson, here; and click here for our prior revenue coverage)

  •  Rivers also reported its Revenue Tax distributions for February 2017, showing that Schenectady County and the City of Schenectady each received $191,991 as their home community share of revenues paid to the State. The average daily GRR for the opening weeks in February were, however, significantly higher than the daily average since then. Nonetheless, the payment of $191,991 for the 22-day partial month of February would result in an annualized total of $3,185,305. When selling the Schenectady Casino to the Racing Commission and the public, Rush Street (and Mayor Gary McCarthy) projected payment of $4.1 million each (22% more) to the City and the County once revenues stabilized.

. . share this post with this short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/RiversDown

update (Saturday, April 8, 2017): The Schenectady Gazette covered revenue and tax distribution for February and march in an article in today’s paper, “Rivers Casino revenues up in March, still behind projectionsFigures from first full month of operation reported” (Brett Samuels, April 8, 2017). As I wrote in a Comment left at the online webpage for the story (which also suggests other issues needing coverage):

deskdudeThe real news is not that — OMG!! — revenues for a 31-day month were higher than for a 20-day month, but that revenues have been down five of the past six weeks. In fact, the decline last week was 19.8%, while Saratoga Casino had about a 2% increase.

The Gazette article does give a nice summary of the projection shortfall issue (while also suggesting reasons revenues might rise as the year progresses):

If the current pace of just over $200,000 per month continues, the city and county would take in about $2.3 million for 2017, falling well short of Rush Street Gaming’s projections submitted in its 2014 application with the Gaming Commission. . .

That economic impact analysis, which included five-year projections for gaming revenues, estimated the low-end gaming revenue for the city and county would be about $3.3 million each for the city and county.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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