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

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

a good start for Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2017

npgam_logo_h_cmyk_arrow-colorcorrected-v2 

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

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

That 2016 Awareness Month post argued that:

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

Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope was that community education and prevention activities might be in operation prior to the Casino’s opening, in order to help inoculate the population of Schenectady against the anticipated tsunami of publicity for the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its resulting Casino Fever.  As expected, in addition to the Casino’s own advertising and promotions, publicity for the Casino has included government and media cheerleading, as casino “gaming” is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity. Our goal was, and is, not to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create an informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than an acceptable high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.  Unfortunately, in the past year, our local government leaders have not stepped forward to put Problem Gambling Awareness [“PGA”] programs into place in time to inoculate our community from casino fever.

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

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

The opening paragraphs of the NYRPP announcement, states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . share this posting with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/2017PGAMschdy

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

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the Gazette takes problem gambling more seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

.

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

PYLON DIRECTORY/Envy

 
Casino#3Pylon

July 2015 version

 Pylon Directory:  Here is a list of our posts and Comments discussing the proposed 80′ x 38′ Schenectady casino pylon and its digital display:

 .
Mayor McCarthy defends the casino pylon” at the League of Conservation Voters forum (September 22, 2015)
.
bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015) suddenly we have a v-shaped pylon with an LCD screen on each wing.
.
– “casino site plan approved: pylon, too” (July 22, 2015). And, the pylon will be bulkier, brighter and wider than expected.
 .
– click here for a pdf version of Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015
 .
– “the Commission should require a better pylon” (July 20, 2015) The Planning Comn has the power to insist on a safer and better-looking pylon.
.
– “a Pylon Precis: too big, too bright, too  much” (July 16, 2015): a pithy summary.
 .
– This posting “pylon envy?“ (see below): compares the Sch’dy pylon to classic Las Vegas signs and a massive new sign in Cincinnati; it also compares the signage rules that apply to all other businesses in Schenectady but not to the Casino
.

– “phony pylon excuse“: uses photos, maps, and other images to explain why the excuse that  the STS Steel Building blocks the view of the casino is simply untrue

– “shrink that Casino pylon“: explains why the proposed pylon is the wrong size at the wrong location; looks at the Des Plaines Rivers Casino, which is too large and too bright at night although “only” 68 ft. tall; worries the Schenectady pylon would become an inappropriate symbol of Schenectady

– “how big is 80 feet by 38 feet?” (July 12, 2015), which points out that the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than Schenectady’s former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street.

– other pylon-related materials: (1) Comments submitted to the Planning Commission June 17, 2015, which stresses the inappropriate height and width and the serious traffic hazard from the huge digital display. (2) a discussion of variables for evaluating the safety of roadside CEVMS (digital variable message displays). (3) The Casino’s Visual Resources Assessment submitted by the Mohawk Harbor applicants as part of its environmental impact assessment, concluding that the project would have no negative visual impact on the City or any historically sensitive areas.
.
original posting:
PYLON ENVY?
GlitterGultch Right after giving the Planning Commission the easily-refuted excuse (see our posting “phony pylon excuse“) that they needed an 80′ pylon because the STS Steel building blocked the view of the Mohawk Harbor’s 71-foot tall casino, Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko assured them it would be “classy”, not gaudy. Sitting in the small Commission meeting room that evening, I remember smirking over what Mr. Galesi, Rush Street’s Neil Bluhm, or Gaming Industry folk in general might think of as “classy”.

Fremont+Stthe+Nugget+Apache+Pioneer+MUST

above & Right: photos of the 1960’s “Glitter Gulch” from the Classic Las Vegas website. For more images and history see InOldLasVegas.com.

If you are an East Coast Baby Boomer like myself, it was classic images of the Las Vegas Freemont Street district and The Strip from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s that created the vision of what a casino “should” look like. Many Americans back then apparently did consider Las Vegas to be classy. One thing for sure (especially for inhabitants of relatively low-rise Upstate New York cities), we thought of all those casino signs, competing for attention among the many gaming and recreation options, as very big and very bright. That’s why I was surprised to discover this past week how relatively modest in size iconic Las Vegas casino signs were compared to the monumental pylon proposed by Rush Street for Schenectady. For example, see the tale told by this Schenectady-Sands comparison:

Compare-Schdy-Sands-Pylons

 By the way, as explained at the Classic Las Vegas website, “The Sands Hotel, probably more than any other, came to symbolize the Las Vegas of our collective memory. It was here that the color line was finally broken, . . . It was where glamour and glitz met in the Desert and it helped propel tourism in the small desert mecca like no other. . . The result according to author Alan Hess was the ‘most elegant piece of architecture the Strip had ever seen’.”

In fact, the Classic Las Vegas piece continues:

SandsNightDetail The crowning glory though was the roadside sign. It was a departure from the usual sheet metal and neon displays that beckoned road-weary travelers to stop and stay. [Architect Wayne] McAllister designed a 56-foot (the S alone was 36-feet) tall sign, by far the tallest on the highway at that time. With its elegant modern script, the sign blended with the building to create a mid-century modern paradise. The sign and the building had motifs common to both. The sign was fabricated by YESCO. With its egg crate grill, cantilevered from a solid pylon, it played with desert light and shadow. In bold free script, it proclaimed “Sands” in neon across the face. At night, it glowed red when the neon spelled out the name.

The sign Mssrs. Bluhm and Buicko want to plop down in Schenectady will never be mistaken for elegance. There will be no playing with light and reflections off our lovely Mohawk River.  Instead, a solid wall 38′ wide will call to mind supersized versions of monument signs straddling huge shopping center parking lots, or maybe a gaudy mausoleum.

The proposed Schenectady pylon casino sign also dwarfs other iconic Las Vegas signage, from the friendly 40′ cowboy Vegas Vic waving from atop the one-story Pioneer Club, to the imposing 35′ Sultan on the similarly one-story Dunes Casino, to the famous and much slimmer pylon sign of The Mint, which (without counting the star on top) was no taller than the Rush Street pylon proposal for Schenectady. The next two collages compare the classic Las Vegas signage to the aberration that our Mayor, City Council and Planning Commission so blithely told Galesi and Rush Street they were welcome to erect in Schenectady. [click on each comparison collage for a much larger version]

VegasCompareCollage1

. .  . .

VegasCompareCollage2

SchdyPylonSketch2-006 One particularly worrisome aspect of the comparisons above is that the 32-foot-tall electronic display screen on the Schenectady casino pylon monument, with its intense LCD lighting, is itself about the same size as the behemoth Dunes Sultan, giant Vegas Vic cowboy, and elegant Sands “S”, which were all created to be impressive giants.

What kind of corporate or personal narcissism seeks to impose a massive, obtrusive and uninteresting monument on the City of Schenectady that is so much larger than the classic giants of Las Vegas’ classic era? What kind of civic insecurity would allow such a structure to mar a city’s streetscape and skyline?

CinciHorseShoeSignageComparedA Modern Comparison. A contemporary casino sign of massive size in Cincinnati should also give our Planning Commissioners a lot to contemplate as they decide on the appropriateness of the proposed Rivers Casino pylon for Schenectady and consider the kind of design that might fit in with and enhance the Schenectady scene. Richard Unger, a city planner who recently moved to the Stockade from Florida, set out to find large casino signs in existence that might offer Schenectady some useful ideas on the design and dimensions of the main freestanding sign for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. In his search, he located only one casino sign that was a large as 80′ tall. It is the massive marquee sign for the Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is also 80′ tall.

The 80′ Horseshoe sign was endorsed by community groups in Cincinnati. (e.g., see “Cincinnati casino goes all-in with giant sign“, Cincinnati.com/Gannett, Oct. 26, 2012). It should not be surprising that prior to persuading community leaders to embrace its massive marquee, the casino developer engaged in a dialogue with the community. Even less surprising, the casino-community dialog was nurtured because City Government commissioned a large study and set up a nonprofit organization, Bridging Broadway, “whose mission is to maximize the new casino’s positive effect on Greater Cincinnati . . . as a catalyst for improving the quality of life for downtown Cincinnati, its businesses, and neighborhoods.”  As a result, the 150-page “Broadway Commons District Plan” was created. Click here for a half-dozen select pages from the Executive Summary and Introduction to the Study, and from the Plan’s Primary Implementation Recommendation: A Community Benefit Agreement.

A brief Aside: The Broadway Commons Plan has this to say about local official and CBAs (at 69):

  As stewards of the community trust in accountable development, local officials play a critical role in developing these agreements. . . . When a local authority has leverage to approve requests from the developer, these officials should represent the community’s interest. In recent years, many local officials have used this leverage to require that the developer negotiate and sign a CBA.

Beyond the process for achieving community backing for a large casino sign, here are practical reasons why the 80′ Horseshoe Marquee was far more appropriate than the huge pylon proposed for Schenectady:

  • Cincinnati is a “high-rise” City. Its highest building is 660 feet, and it has 25 buildings taller than 250 feet.  (See Wikipedia) In contrast, Schenectady’s tallest building is Summit Towers, at 148′, which architects would call “low-rise” residential. The next two tallest are The Lottery Building at One Broadway Center [111′] and the Parker Building next to Proctors at 99′).
    • Three other building that Schenectadians consider to be quite tall are in the same ballpark as the proposed Mohawk Harbor Casino pylon: Both Golub Headquarters and MVP Health Headquarters are 86′ tall, and the Wedgeway at Erie Blvd. and State Street is 76 feet tall. Because they are not quite as tarted up as the Schenectady Pylon will be, they all would seem quite demure in comparison. [follow-up: the sign is taller and wider than the old Masonic Temple at 302 State St., corner of Erie Blvd.]
  • No Digital Message Board. The Horseshoe Marquee has no digital message board with text and images to distract drivers. It merely has a 3D animated horseshoe rotating on its top, far above street level. [For a discussion of the safety hazards and factors to be considered when digital signs are displayed near roadways, see our commentary at http://tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors]
  • A slender shape. The Cincinnati Horseshoe sign is not at all shaped like the proposed giant hulk at Mohawk Harbor, which is 38′ wide for the first 60 feet above the ground, and 30′ wide for the next 14.5 feet.   The Horseshoe marquee is about 33′ wide in a narrow strip near the top that names the casino. At the base, it is about 12 feet wide and stays that size for more than a dozen feet up the column. This slender silhouette greatly reduces the bulkiness of the Horseshoe sign.
  • Lower Profile.  According to Cincinnati.com, “The sign would be placed on Gilbert Avenue, away from the sprawling casino’s front door along Reading Road. Although the sign is tall – nearly twice the height of the Genius of Water sculpture at Fountain Square – its placement will be on the lowest point of the casino site, about 55 feet below the street level of Reading Road.”
  • The Cincinnati sign looks like a casino sign, not a wall with a big LCD screen.

In case our local officials are afraid to say no to the Rush Street pylon request because they fear the casino really does need the colossal sign to succeed, we note that Rush Street claims to be doing just fine in both Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia, and have no giant pylon at either location.

Exempted from the “normal” Signage Rules. Another way to look at the appropriateness of the proposed Schenectady Casino pylon is to compare it with the rules that govern every other location and business in the City of Schenectady.

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Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table

Hisstationand4aces-coolidge

.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . *_/

  At Schenectady City Council meetings, Mayor Gary McCarthy is pretty good at maintaining his poker face, while raking and calling in political chips. But, it’s apparently a different story when the Mayor sits down to gamble on our City’s future with the Casino Gang from Mohawk Harbor (Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group).  Despite holding numerous trump cards, the McCarthy Administration has left a lot of casino cash, public benefits, and basic zoning protections on the table, to the future enrichment and probable amusement of the savvy businessmen who are planning to make millions of dollars at the Old ALCO site.

*/ above image: “His Station and Four Aces” (1903), by C.M. Coolidge

So far, all that Schenectady has received from Galesi Group’s Dave Buicko and Rush Street’s Neil Bluhm are unenforceable promises of big dollars and jobs down the road, with lots of disclaimers, footnotes, and revenue projections adjusted downward. We should have expected and demanded much more of Mayor McCarthy, and his Legal and Planning Departments. As explained below, at the very least, we should ask how the Mayors of cities as different as Philadelphia (PA) and Brockton (MA) got so much from Rush Street Gaming, while Schenectady ended up with only smiles and praise for their cooperation from the so-called Partners.

. . . BROCKTON, MA

About ten weeks ago, in February 2015, Mohawk Harbor’s Casino Gang gave Schenectady City Hall its litany of zoning “needs”, and Mayor McCarthy gave them everything they asked for, and more, with no tit for tat. That same month, Rush Street Gaming, through its Massachusetts affiliate Mass. Gaming and Entertainment (“MGE”), entered into an agreement with the City of Brockton as part of its application process for a Massachusetts gaming facility license. As the Boston Globe reported (emphasis added):

“The six-page agreement, negotiated by Mayor Bill Carpenter, would require the casino’s developer to provide the city $3 million in upfront payments  and then $10 million a year, or 2.5 percent of gross gambling revenues, whichever is greater, if a casino is built.”  (“Brockton would receive $10 million a year under casino agreement,” Boston Globe, Feb. 20, 2015)

That’s right, Rush Street recently entered into a contract, called a Host Community Agreement, to make three million-dollar payments to Brockton for Community Enhancement during construction of its casino, and at least $10,000,000 a year in combined payments guaranteed once the resort is open to the public. (See the Yes for Brockton website’s description of the benefits promised to Brockton by Rush Street.) In addition, along with other benefits for the City and its residents, the Host Community Agreement (summary) obligated Rush Street to:

  1. commission and fund comprehensive Impact Studies to be performed by independent, mutually-acceptable experts, to assess the impacts of the Project on the City’s traffic and transportation infrastructure, utility infrastructure, public safety, and other impacts such as education and housing.
  2. enter a Mitigation Agreement, after receiving its gaming license, to fund the mitigation of all identified impacts.
  3. pay property taxes during construction based on the arms-length acquisition price of the land
  4. grant a hiring preference for both construction and permanent jobs, first to qualified Brockton residents and then to qualified residents of Surrounding Communities.
  5. pay for or reimburse the City for customary expenses incurred in the permitting and impact-review process
  6. issue at least $50,000 per year in gift cards or rewards vouchers to be used at local businesses located off site.

RSppMGCcover . . RSppMGC

– above screen-shots: Cover & Brockton Benefits page from Rush Street Power Point presentation to Massachusetts Gaming Commission, March 2, 2015 –

In addition to the very significant factor of allowing each municipality’s voters, rather than merely the local Council, to approve an applicant’s casino proposal, Massachusetts Gaming Law [G.L. Chapter 23K, §15(8)] differs from New York’s in that it requires the applicant to enter into a Host Community Agreement that sets out the responsibilities of both parties. But, the only specifically-required element is an Impact Fee of an unspecified size.  Everything else — i.e., payments prior to opening the casino; guaranteed minimum payments for real estate taxes and community enhancement, preference in hiring to local residents for jobs and vendors, etc. —  is a matter for negotiation and bargaining between the casino developer and the City.

checkedboxs  The most important aspect of the Agreement made by Rush Street with Brockton (as well as the agreements with Philadelphia) is that Rush Street clearly believes it can give such significant, firm prior commitments to the City and the Community and, nonetheless, make a profit sufficient to warrant submitting the application, waging a vigorous campaign, and making the immense investment necessary to develop and operate a casino. The apparent but understandable irony, of course, is that Rush Street offers its pre-operation payments, generous goodies, and binding revenue promises to the cities where the fight against Rush Street is the strongest (or where it faces a vote by the residents), and offers virtually nothing to places like Schenectady where “leaders” eagerly support their proposal.  That makes Mr. Bluhm a good businessman and poker player, but not necessarily a good neighbor. The question now is whether the City (as well as the County and Metroplex) can make up for those lost opportunities and take the City back from the New Bosses at the Old ALCO site. 

update (May 11, 2015): When confronted, by Mohamed Hafez at tonight’s City Council Meeting, with the many promises made by Rush Street to Brockton, Mayor Gary McCarthy made the expected excuse that Massachusetts requires the Host Community Agreements. As stated above, that response is incomplete, and cannot justify McCarthy not demanding similar agreements be made by Rush Street with Schenectady.

In addition, the Mayor pointed out that all New York gaming revenues go to the State, which distributes the funds to counties and municipalities.  That argument ignores the fact that the casino operator has the ability to guarantee that the city will receive a minimum amount each year in total revenues, and to reimburse the City for any shortfall from the revenue redistributed by the State and County.  In addition, the casino pays real property taxes directly to the County, City and School District, and those funds can be the subject of an agreement with the City, as can the other promises made by Rush Street with Brockton and Philadelphia, and the many other items that appear in typical Community Benefit Agreements.

RushStreetGiveaways For a detailed response to the Mayor, see “Money on the Table, part 2” (May 18, 2015), which describes the many Host Community Agreements and Impact Mitigation Plans entered into by other potential Upstate New York host municipalities last year, and their implications when judging the job the McCarthy Administration has done in Schenectady. Follow-up (May 27, 2015): See our post and related chart on Rush Street’s Giveaways (to everyone but Schenectady).

Additional points about casino location in Massachusetts:

  • See the Mass. Gaming Commission HCA webpage, for an explanation of Host Community Agreements, along with both full texts and summaries of existing agreements with 5 communities awaiting casino location. Also, click here, for 9 excerpted pages we’ve scanned from the 5 summary documents.
  • Payments prior to Opening. While it will be years before Schenectady tax payers will be seeing casino revenues to help reduce property taxes, Massachusetts localities, thanks to Agreements like the one made in Brockton, are already seeing pre-opening payments. Indeed, according to an article this week in the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle, several years before any casino dollars will be generated in Massachusetts:

Fifteen communities . . . have received roughly $5 million from the state’s three licensed casino operators as part of compensation agreements negotiated with the companies.

The payments range from more than $1 million to Springfield to $50,000 apiece to nearby Ludlow, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow and Holyoke. [“Early spend spree” (AP, The Sun-Chronicle, Attleboro MA, April 19, 2015)

  •  Helping Surrounding Communities. As the above Sun-Chronicle article suggests, another difference in the Massachusetts Gaming Law is that Massachusetts specifically attempts to help Surrounding Communities receive mitigation funds from a casino applicant/operator. (That is another way in which our State law fails to protect the public, making strong advocacy by a Host city for its residents and neighbors even more important.) Therefore, under G.L. Chapter 23K, §15(9), an applicant for a license must “provide to the commission signed agreements between the surrounding communities and the applicant setting forth the conditions to have a gaming establishment located in proximity to the surrounding communities and documentation of public outreach to those surrounding communities.” In Massachusetts, therefore, Rush Street says it will start approaching neighboring communities for mitigation agreements as soon as the people of Brockton vote “Yes” on the Brockton Agreement. See, “Neighboring towns keep close watch as Brockton prepares casino vote“, Boston Globe, April 26, 2015.

images-7 In Schenectady, by contrast to Brockton, neither City Hall nor the Casino (nor Big Brother Ray Gillen at Metroplex) has acknowledged publicly that there will be added expenses or other negative impact on the people, neighborhoods, and businesses of Schenectady and nearby towns. Instead, when asked about increased costs for police, fire, and emergency services, or the added need for public assistance and school district expenses, the “Casino Partners” glibly and dismissively tell us that more than enough extra revenue will come to the City and County from operation of the casino to easily pay for any such impacts, with lots left over to reduce property taxes. Similarly, when Council Member Vince Riggi (the only non-Democrat on the City Council) has asked his colleagues to study and report on added costs to the City caused by operation of the Casino, he has been rejected out of hand. images-3 . Likewise, calls by residents, and Mr. Riggi, at Council meetings, for a commitment by Rush Street for minimum payments to the City have been scoffed at by The Partners.  Imploring the Mayor and City Council to bargain from strength while they still have leverage has been met with Mayor McCarthy’s poker face and Council President King’s averted eyes. The goal proclaimed by Rush Street in the Brockton Agreement, “To achieve certainty for both parties”, cannot be heard along the Mohawk. . . . . .

.BrocktonCasino  . . . Casino-RenderResort – Rush Street Casino Renderings: [L] Brockton; [R] Schenectady (click on image for larger view) –

Architectural Comparison: There is at least one more significant way in which Rush Street has treated Brockton better then Schenectady: Neil Bluhm is planning a project at the Brockton fairgrounds that actually looks like it could be both a “destination resort” and part of a New England community, rather than a retread of his Midwest Des Plaines Casino, which has the charisma of a 1970s shopping mall or branch bank (see images above this paragraph). The Boston Globe said the Brockton proposal was a sprawling plan reminiscent of a New England college campus. I have wondered since last summer why no one at City Hall, the County Building, or Metroplex sent Rush Street back to the drawing board to come up with a design worthy of our City, perhaps in sync with the look and feel of our Historic Stockade District. I wonder if Brockton’s Mayor did just that, or if Rush Street decided from the start to go show Brockton more design respect than Schenectady has received.

StockadeFlagCollage

Stockade images

 

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

.

PHILADELPHIA, PA . . .

We have in Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino additional, strong evidence that Mayor McCarthy and his Legal and Planning Departments have underperformed immensely in dealing with Rush Street and Galesi on behalf of the people of Schenectady.  The Philadelphia casino is operated by Rush Street Gaming and owned by SugarHouse HSP Gaming, LP, which are both controlled by Neil Bluhm and his family.  SugarHouse gives us a telling demonstration of just what happens when a City and community actually bargain with Rush Street, rather than grovel like desperate and helpless supplicants.

  • Schenectady residents focused on lowering property taxes, as well as those interested in funding projects to combat expected social and neighborhood issues, should pay particular attention to the Philadelphia story.

SugarHouseEntryway Two major Agreements, made prior to its Selection to receive a gaming license in December 2006 and its Opening in September 2010, have had a significant impact on the SugarHouse situation, including the size, shape and timing of its benefits.  First, the City of Philadelphia entered into a Development and Tax and Claim Settlement Agreement (“The Development Agreement”) with HSP Gaming on December 17, 2007, three days before its application was selected for a gaming license.  Second, persons and entities representing four nearby neighborhoods entered into a Community Benefits Agreement with HSP Gaming relating to the SugarHouse Casino in November 2008, almost two years before its opening. [You can learn about Community Benefits Agreements, including the SugarHouse CBA, at the CBA weblog.] . . . . . In 2006, in another significant prior action, the Philadelphia City Council passed §14-400 of its Zoning Code, establishing the Commercial Entertainment District (CED) to permit licensed gaming facilities. That was a year before HSP Gaming was selected by the Gaming Commission. Similar to Schenectady’s original C-3 Waterfront Multi-use Zoning ordinance, Philadelphia’s 2006 casino zoning included a very strong public access requirement at riverfront locations (§14-406(5)(b), details below). Unlike Schenectady’s amended casino zoning provision, Philadelphia continues to specify the requirement of guaranteed public access to the riverbank. [By the way, there is no waterfront on the Braxton casino property. If there were, I’m sure its citizens would have achieved a firm promise of permanent waterfront access, as the folks in Everett and New Bradford, MA, recently did.]

Note: In December 2011, the Philadelphia Zoning Code was revamped and reorganized, but its casino district provisions were only renumbered to §14-405, and renamed, without changing their substance. The district is now called SP-ENT (Special Purpose-Entertainment). For those interested in making a comparison, the Repealed Casino District provisions can be found here.  Click on this link for the current SP-ENT provisions.

PENNTreatySSD Logo Not only did Rush Street Gaming enter into a comprehensive Community Benefits Agreement with Philadelphia for its SugarHouse casino, it went beyond the elements customarily found across the nation in development CBAs by agreeing to the creation of a Special Services District (“SSD”), controlled by four neighboring communities, to administer the CBA on behalf of the Community. The resulting SSD is called the PENN Treaty Special Services District (“PENN Treaty SSD” or “PTSSD”). Click this link for the full text of the PENN Treaty SSD Articles of Incorporation and the SugarHouse CBA.

Why “PENN Treaty”? According to legend, Pennsylvania founder William Penn signed his treaty of peace with the local Lenape tribe under an elm tree just off the Delaware River in 1683, at a riverfront spot near SugarHouse. The tree fell down in a storm in 1810, but the site was dedicated in 1894 and named PENN Treaty Park.

PENNTreatySSD Logo Here are some of the most important provisions in the SugarHouse Community Benefits Agreement:

1.Goals: The CBA says that SugarHouse wants to open on schedule, “with the minimum disruption practicable, during both development and operation to the Neighboring Community.” In addition, the Community Signatories are said to desire ongoing cooperation with SugarHouse, “in order to properly address the impacts of casino development and maximize the benefits of such development to the community.”

2.red check Special Services District: The Community Benefits Agreement includes setting up a Special Services District, called PENN Treaty SSD (“PTSSD”), which is a nonprofit organization formed and controlled by volunteers from the four Neighboring Communities that border on the Casino. As PTSSD states on its web homepage, it distributes grants and sponsorships to organizations that provide charitable benefits to the residents of the SSD. PTSSD started operations in January 2010, nine months before SugarHouse opened for business.

3.red check Funding:  It took two years of continued wrangling, but the Casino eventually began making the required payments under the CBA and the Special Services District has been sharing those funds since that time with the communities of Fishtown, Northern Liberties, South Kensington and Old Richmond.

1.PTSSD has already received $1,175,000 from SugarHouse under their CBA to fund projects for the benefit of the neighboring communities

2.SugarHouse agreed to pay $175,000 each year during the Pre-Opening period; $500,000 the first Post-Opening Year; and $1,000,000 in subsequent years, for 15 years, with upward adjustments up to $1.5 million.

3.SugarHouse also agreed to pay up to $35,000 for the legal fees incurred by the community representatives setting up the SSD, plus $1000 in startup expenses

4.red check Waterfront Access: SugarHouse agreed that “in no event shall such access be more limited than provided in the [Development Agreement it made with the City]”. As a result, as detailed at pp. 6-7 of the Development Agreement, once SugarHouse completed its Waterfront Promenade (during its first phase of construction), it must permit “substantial public access . . at all times along its waterfront pursuant to a mutually satisfactory agreement concerning such access,” with street entry from both north and south ends of the Casino complex, and with very limited partial restriction allowed for special events and safety reasons. SugarHouse must also consult with the SSD on a regular basis regarding access to the waterfront.

Note: This is of course, quite different from the situation in Schenectady, where Rush Street and City Hall collaborated to remove a public access guarantee from its C-3 Waterfront zoning provision: with Council Member Leesa Perazzo inanely explaining “we don’t need it because they’re going to do it anyway,” and Director of Development Jaclyn Mancini pointing out that “they’ll have access to the retail shops,” as if being able to shop at Mohawk Harbor retail establishments was in question and is equivalent to being able to freely enjoy the waterfront. When the topic of public access came up before the Planning Commission, Galesi Group’s CEO and representative Dave Buicko twice said “it’s private property”, and he admitted they want people to come as customers.

5. Promotion of Local Businesses.  SugarHouse must operate a Promotional Player Program with points redeemable at local businesses and must keep a list of businesses offering discounts to SugarHouse players’ club members.

6.Traffic. Miscellaneous obligations are undertaken by SugarHouse aimed at minimizing “disruption caused by increased or modified traffic” related to the development and operation of SugarHouse. For example, free parking must be provided for employees and casino guests to prevent spillover to neighboring streets. Also, a one-time $5000 payment was made to allow for free car washes for those nearby affected by construction dust.

In addition, the Development and Tax and Claim Settlement Agreement with the City of Philadelphia included many commitments, such as:

•Security, Safety, Medical Emergencies: SugarHouse will fund private security for its complex sufficient to maintain the peace; will pay for expenses related to 911 emergency calls from the Casino; and will provide or fund ambulance service for medical emergencies at the Casino.

•Traffic Report. In the first and third years of operation, SugarHouse must do a traffic count at specified intersections and provide a plan to remedy any failure to reach goals set forth in certain Traffic Letters.

red check Specified Settlement Payments and Use and Occupancy (property tax) Payments: Specific Dollar Amounts are pledged (see p. 10), with a minimum of $3.2 million in Settlement Payments, and $1 million in Use and Occupancy payments in each of the first 10 years, and $3.5 million in years 11 to 20, with CPI adjustments.

•LEED & Green Roof. SugarHouse will use an LEED Certified consultant, and promises to spend a minimum of One Million Dollars to construct a Green Roof on the facility covering at least 60,000 sq.ft. (Click here for the EPA webpage on Green Roofs) In Schenectady, the Casino Gang speaks more in terms of aspirations than promises, and they seem to be saying something like, “Gosh, we’ll do what we can to be energy efficient, as long as it doesn’t cost too much.”

•Waterfront Access. As discussed above in the CBA section, the Development Agreement (at 6-7) sets forth numerous public access requirements, and explains limited restrictions on access that might be imposed due to special events, construction, and safety concerns.

Zoning Code Differences. . . . The Schenectady City Council recently pushed through a set of C-3 Waterfront zoning amendments to meet the “needs” of the developer and operator, with the City’s incurious, almost-servile Planning Commission granting it major CYA protection (see our earlier posting). The resulting zoning code leaves the people of Schenectady with fewer rights and less protection. (See, e.g., our posting of Feb. 10, 2015, “zoning vote hands the Casino Gang a Blank Check“) In contrast, treatment of licensed gaming facilities in the Philadelphia zoning code was put in place prior to the selection of SugarHouse for a casino license and not tampered with at SugarHouse, as they had been in Schenectady under pressure to fulfill the pressures, whims and exaggerated deadlines of the Galesi Group and Rush Street. . Here are examples of the contrast between casino-related zoning provisions in Schenectady (its C-3 District provisions, §264-14, which are described, with a link to the final version, at tinyurl.com/C-3Changes) and in Philadelphia (its SP-ENT provisions):

Continue reading

Bloomberg on Cuomo’s casino policy

According to yesterday’s New York Daily News:

“Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg Wednesday broke his silence on New York politics Wednesday —ripping Gov. Cuomo’s decisions to expand casino gambling and reject hydrofracking.” Bloomberg said:

Our strategy in New York State seems to be to open gambling casinos so we can rip the lungs out of the poor to subsidize upstate real-estate developers. That doesn’t help anyone in the area.”

(see New York Daily News, April 8, 2015, by Kenneth Lovett, “Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg slams Andrew Cuomo’s decisions to expand casino gambling, reject hydrofracking“)

When will other New York political, business, academic and community “leaders”, who have been either casino cheerleaders or cowering mute in the shadows, finally come forward to admit that casinos are very likely to harm many of the disadvantaged members of our society? When will they take the next step and start planning how to avoid those problems to the extent possible?

Perhaps Michael Bloomberg can help to finance and organize attempts to find solutions. It seems certain that individuals and groups who care about the social and economic fabric of our communities, and the fate of individuals and families, will have to start demanding that our public servants in Government take action. Better yet, because we have learned that we cannot count on help from politicians (even those whose Party purports to care about social issues), we need to start brainstorming, researching, organizing and fund-raising on our own to help prevent and remedy casino-caused problems.

Those with ideas on how to start the Problem-Solving Process, should leave a comment or contact members of Stop the Schenectady Casino directly. And, even if it seems futile, start telling or local politicos they need to take heed and take up this cause.

Trump’s Taj casino doesn’t want a college nextdoor

It looks like the folks at Trump Entertainment have more sense than our Rush Street crew, City Hall, the Gaming Facility Location Board, and the Administration of Union College.  Here’s what they posted on their website last week about Stockton University wanting to use the lot next door for a campus:

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

According to a story in the Courier-Post (March 25, 2015), Stockton’s president, Herman Saatkamp, lashed out at Trump Entertainment on Tuesday night, saying, “We have been stabbed in the heart.” Stockton College purchased the property, the site of the failed Showboat Casino, knowing that the Taj Mahal Casino would have to waive their rights to block anything other than a major casino at that location, for the school to have a campus there.  For details on the story, see “Taj casino doesn’t want college next-door” (AP/Courier-Post, March 25, 2015).

We’ are, of course, opposed to a casino near a college for different reasons than Trump Entertainment. See our posts “Union College and the Schenectady casino” and “what will the casino mean for Union College students?”. But, realizing that there are good business-related reasons for a casino to avoid such proximity to thousands of college students makes it even less palatable that local and State officials refused to acknowledge the problem.

Leadership We understand that Union College President Stephen Ainlay may fear retribution from the City, Metroplex and Galesi-related donors, for speaking out against a casino at Mohawk Harbor. Nevertheless, the silence of such an important local institution, despite the potential harm to its student body, shows an irresponsible lack of leadership and courage.  Click on the image at the right of this paragraph to see a poster about college presidents created by the (successful) opponents to a casino in downtown Hamilton, Ottawa, Canada. 

 

SCHENECTADY’s WATERFRONT ZONING: a rubber stamp in a Company Town?

 desktop misc6 It’s hard to avoid being discouraged after the January 26th public hearing on the Schenectady City Council’s proposed amendments to our waterfront zoning ordinance (the C-3 District).  Rather than actually addressing any of the amendments’ provisions, the so-called supporters of the proposals merely told how exciting the casino project was and how necessary it is to have C-3 waterfront zoning (which we already have: click for Current C-3 Zoning Ordinance).  As someone who witnessed the four-hour Planning Commission Special Meeting on January 14th, it was especially disconcerting to hear speaker after speaker use the 8-0 vote of the Planning Commission approving the set of amendments as an important reason for adopting the proposal. [In this posting, the Planning Commission is at times referred to as “Commission” or “PC”.]

The major zoning changes that were under consideration are listed here, and discussed in several postings filed in our Zoning/Planning Category and in the Recent Posts menu at the top of the Sidebar.

GEsignBlDice

new boss in town?

We believe the four-hour Special Meeting of the Planning Commission on Jan. 14 was yet another demonstration that Schenectady has become once again a Company Town, where City Hall acts as a rubber stamp wielded to fulfill the wishes of Schenectady’s new Bosses, Galesi Group, the owner and developer of Mohawk Harbor, and Rush Street Gaming, the operator of the casino itself [collectively known around this website as the Galesi-Casino Gang, or simply “the Gang”]

 As a result, the customary (non-casino-related) interests of Schenectady’s current and future residents, businesses and organizations, are ignored, with shortsighted decisions being made and Schenectady’s future and heritage being shortchanged.

In the zoning context, therefore, we see a set of proposed amendments that only make sense if traditional zoning and planning goals and processes are forgotten and the only goal is to make the Gang’s wishes and hopes for Mohawk Harbor into law. But, you ask, can’t we be reassured by the 8-0 vote of our City’s Planning Commission recommending the proposed amendments with only a couple of minor tweaks?  In a word, as explained below, No.

Alco&GElogos Many supporters of a Schenectady Casino (especially those who live in Schenectady and won’t be its business partners) simply want Schenectady to be a City with a Casino, and not a Casino City, known elsewhere mostly for its regional gaming facility.  More worrisome than becoming a Casino Town is becoming a Company Town again. Ironically, the new Company Town has its ruling Gang symbolically ensconced at the very spot where the American Locomotive Company and General Electric built useful things that helped win wars and modernize our homes and lives. It is also ironic that so many of the people who helped write Schenectady’s Comprehensive Plan 2020 are now undoing its boast that Schenectady was working successfully in an ongoing process to make “the transition from a company town” into something much more vibrant and diverse.

ALCODiceThe suspicion that Schenectady has transformed into a Company Town run by the Gang from Mohawk Harbor was strengthened a lot at the Special Meeting of the Planning Commission. The City’s Development and Legal Staff and the City Council had requested a review of the proposed amendments by the Planning Commission. It was, however, not the Staff who presented the proposed amendments to the Commission. Instead, Galesi Group Chief Operating Officer Dave Buicko began the Meeting with a slide show, after being asked by the Commission Chair to “put the changes in context”; COO Buicko reassured the Commissioners and public that this is really just “cleanup and clarification” of the current provisions of C-3. (That was the first of many “exaggerations” that were not remarked upon by the Commissioners or staff.)

A lawyer was next to address the Commissioners, but not one from the City’s Law Department. PC Chair Sharron Copolla casually transitioned from Buicko by inviting Andrew Brick, an attorney for casino operator Rush Street Gaming, to take a chair at the table. Mr. Brick then went line for line through the 8 pages of the proposal and explained how they relate to their new development. Brick, lawyer for the Gang with the most to lose or win, was the only person presenting the provisions to the Commissioners. He offered only the “pros” of the new amendments, not the questions or “cons.” And, the only reasons given for the changes were the advantages for Mohawk Harbor and its casino.

  approved-CityCouncil Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico was watching the Meeting from his office on a live feed, but felt the need to come down and interrupt the Meeting to proclaim that this really isn’t the developer’s set of amendments, and is from the law and planning staff, adding “we did a lot of work on it.” That’s a little different than it being the City’s plan, and it was amusing that one supporter of the proposals told the public hearing our Corporation Counsel proved it was his plan by saying so at the PC meeting.

In the next, public comment segment of the meeting, seven Schenectady residents voiced specific, well-articulated opposition to several of the proposals and especially called for adjournment before voting on the proposal, to allow for much-needed fact-finding and research. Although admitting often to ignorance or confusion, the Planning Commission went ahead, voting that night as if the public comments had never been uttered and their only real job was to get the proposals approved in time for the Council’s Jan. 26 public hearing.

After the public comments were made, the PC Chair invited Mr. Buicko to respond to the public comments, and then allowed Michael Levin, a principal in the firm that will be overseeing construction, to present his version of the reasons Mohawk Harbor needs these changes, now.  The City’s staff were never offered the opportunity to explain any of the provisions, and never tried to do so.

rubberstamptoolongBY Only after the Galesi and Rush Street Gaming representatives were finished, did the Commissioners begin their discussion of the Amendments, stopping often to ask Mr. Buicko or someone from his group to explain a provision.  Although that discussion was very long, it amounted to a slow-motion rubber stamping, as can be seen below in their treatment of the various issues that arose.

Adequately Prepared for Novel Issues?

This set of amendments raises zoning and factual issues that this City and planning board have never before seen, as well as specific problems never explained by staff. For instance:

  • How much and what kinds of signage do urban casinos that are not on a strip with similar establishments typically use and need? What does Rush Street do at its other casinos, and to what effect? Why does it only use 12,500 sq. ft. of signage in Des Plaines, not the 15,000 sq. ft. it told Metroplex would be the maximum in Schenectady, nor the 19,000 sq. ft. in the proposed amendments?
  • How are scenic river views and public access to a riverbank best preserved or achieved when zoning for a large new development along a rare stretch of river? How do the proposed amendments jibe with the goals of the C-3 waterfront district and the Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 (adopted 2008), which call for the preservation of waterfront views and public access?
  • CasinoHotel9floors Is a bulky hotel building as tall as 110′ high too intrusive 40′ away from a riverbank? Why does the rendering of the Casino hotel along the riverbank that was first submitted to the public and the Location Board last Spring and continues to be circulated, show only a 5-floor hotel, perhaps 65′ high?
  • What would a fully illuminated urban casino look like at night and how will its illumination affect neighbors and the way our City is perceived?
  • Aren’t embayments and other bodies of water usually left out in calculating allowable aggregate footprint on a parcel?  Why should the Casino compound be allowed an extra 2.5 acres of footprint because of the size of the Marina’s embayment? Also, why would a project that wants to go so high also want more footprint? What would that do to the view of the riverfront within or outside Mohawk Harbor, from ground level or from nearby buildings?
  • How would the requested 90′ high pylon affect the City’s skyline, nearby and distant traffic, and neighborhoods? Aren’t such tall pylons used primarily near freeways to alert fast-moving drivers to get off at the next exit for a service not visible from the freeway, or used outside of cities to attract distant traffic?
  • CrosstownPlazaSign

    Crosstown Plaza – 50′ pylon

    With 7′ the current limit for a C-3 free-standing sign, why wouldn’t a 50′ pylon suffice for you, like the one grandfathered at Crosstown Plaza? If their Des Plaines casino’s pylon is 68′ tall, why is 90′ needed here? How could the 49′ tall STS plant be the justification for such a tall pylon? Will the pylon come down when Galesi gets STS to move and razes its building?

  • What happens when the City’s existing signage provisions applicable tpo every zoning district, Article IX, are made inapplicable to one large parcel with has a novel use, with no provisions substituted for the existing rules?
  • Would a proposed 8-second interval for electronic message boards be appropriate at a location with many signs and much illumination, where many drivers will be new to the City, and to roundabouts, and many senior drivers are expected? (Click to read the Standards and discussion in the NYS DOT’s “Criteria for Regulating CEVM signs“.)
  • And, many more questions that will come to the surface while answering the questions above?

desktop misc7 Despite a grueling, often embarrassing four- hour-long Special Meeting, there are a number of convincing clues that the Planning Commissioners were meant to merely rubber-stamp this set of amendments that will greatly impact the appearance, ambiance, reputation, economy, and social future of our City far past the foreseeable future. For example, the Planning Commissioners:

  • Were not supplied by the Staff with even one page of materials containing explanations for the proposed changes, pros and cons, alternatives, the results of research comparing practices elsewhere, etc., as the basis for informed preparation, questions and decision-making
  • Had no new submissions by Mohawk Harbor, nor from the Casino, with much more-detailed renderings of plans that coincide with the provisions they had negotiated for with the Legal and Development staff
  • Did not demand a full briefing from staff before the Special Meeting, nor during it, nor ask for new plans and renderings from the Casino Gang at any time
  • Were entreated in person by Leesa Perazzo to approve the proposed recommendation, although Ms. Perazzo is a member of the very City Council that had asked for the Planning Commission’s recommendation
  • Made their recommendation that the amendments be passed by City Council that night, despite reasonable requests from the public (including a retired city planner and a retired lawyer familiar with local zoning law) for an adjournment that might allow them to become adequately prepared for an intelligent evaluation of the proposed amendments

Immediately below is the only staff material I’ve located that mentions evaluation or analysis of the proposed amendments. It is from the 31Dec2014 Memo from Jaclyn Mancini, Director of Development, to the City Council asking that the amendments be sent to the Planning Commission for their recommendation and that a Public Hearing be authorized:

Evaluation/Analysis

Planning and Law Department staff has drafted amendments to Chapter 264, Zoning, for the casino and its associated parking to be permitted uses.  Changes to allowable building height and allowable signage are also included in the amendments.

That’s it for background materials to aid the Commissioners. In addition to their being willing to fly blind, there were many failures of the Commissioners to show adequate curiosity, research, or backbone.  Here are a few instances:

First [punting difficult issues], as discussed fully in the earlier posting “City Hall is giving bad legal advice to get Council votes“, Planning Commission Chair Sharron Copolla voiced at least three times the excuse that the Commissioners can go ahead and approve of the seemingly extreme provisions in the Amendments, because they could reduce the numbers during Site Plan review of the Casino plans.  That appears to be bad advice on the Chair’s part, and the last time she made the assertion Commissioner Wallinger immediately told Ms. Copolla, “No we don’t.” That did not stop the Commissioners from all voting for the big numbers (nor the smaller 40 foot setback).

Sidenote: If the Commission does have the authority to make major changes during the Site Plan process, as the Mayor and Council President have asserted, the Mohawk Harbor Gang would not have the certainty it claims to need right now. It is better to take a close look at the numbers in the Amendments and approve changes Schenectady can proudly live with.

ACLObuildings Second [taller buildings], not only did no Commissioner object when Galesi Group President David Buicko opened the Special Meeting by stating these major, unprecedented changes are “only clean-up and clarification” of what is in the current C-3 law, they remained silent to the repeated assertion that it is appropriate to have 110′ buildings now at Mohawk Harbor, because the old ALCO site had buildings 130′ high that blocked out the view of the River. Commissioners who have lived here more than a few years surely had seen the ALCO site, and knew that the factory plants consisted of very long buildings (some 1000 yards), that were about 50′ high, and that a few of them had a taller portion (apparently to accommodate a crane or similar device to lift heavy items from the assembly line) that took up a tiny fraction of the length of the building and the skyline.  See the photo at the head of the paragraph (by Howard Olhous at Historic Marker Database) for a typical ALCO site image; and, see the following photo with an aerial view from the River side (by Nick Skinner, also hmdb.org), which has a white asterisk on one of the tall sections:

ALCo Site - Aerial View

The Photo also shows how dominant the Price Chopper Building is despite it being significantly shorter than 110 feet. (Mr. Buicko says 103′, Golub Headquarters told me 86′ tall.)

Third [Article IX inapplicable to Casino], no one on the Commission ever mentioned that the amendments were making the entire Schenectady Zoning ordinance on signs, Article. IX, inapplicable to the casino and its accessory uses (but still applicable to the rest of C-3, apparently). This has never been done before, but there was no discussion of what was going to fill the regulatory vacuum or why Schenectady’s customary size, number, or type rules were not needed.

Fourth [public access guarantee], only Commissioners Cuevas and Wallinger voiced concern over the removal from the C-3 ordinance of the current requirement of a permanent easement guaranteeing public access to the waterfront and another provision requiring public access to 10% of the dock space. No one asked Mr. Buicko why he needed the easement requirement removed, nor why he stated a number of times “it’s private property” in the content of public access.

Screen shot 2015-01-024 When one Commissioner did ask City planner and ex officio member Christine Primiano why there would no longer be an access guarantee at the waterfront, she said the City could not afford the maintenance; she gave no further explanation and there was no follow-up question. No one reminded her that the current law requires maintenance by the owner; that the City is expecting millions of dollars a year from this very parcel and has promised public access to the waterfront; or that it is odd that staff already knew a few years in advance that the City could not afford the maintenance on a project that so nicely fulfills goals set out in the Comprehensive Plan.

Loss of required dock and riverfront access by the public surely should shock and surprise individuals and families throughout the County. It is inconsistent with both the spirit and the text of the Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 (adopted 2008). For a full discussion of the loss of guaranteed public access, see our prior posting.

Fifth [maximum signage]: During the public comment period of the PC meeting, the Commissioners were asked if any of them knew what 20,000 sq. ft. of signage looks like. As expected, several heads shook the response “no.” [Schenectady resident John Kolwaite told the Commissioners a few minutes later that he had measured the front dimensions of our City Hall, and 20,000 sq. ft. was more than twice the size of the City’s Hall’s façade (as is 19,000 sq. ft.). Click here to see the photo mock-up he tried to submit to the Commission, showing the front of two City Halls, and also stating it was equal to 20 large (18′ x40′) billboards.]

Despite their inability to comprehend how much signage the amendments would allow in the Casino compound portion of Mohawk Harbor, the Commissioners asked for few additional details. When Commissioner Matt Cuevas stated that 20,000 sounded like too much and he would feel more comfortable with 15,00o sq. ft., Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico stood, approached the table, and in a stern voice stated (closely paraphrased):

“You can’t go from 20,000 to 15,000 without a rational basis.  If you do, we will be overturned in court. I have negotiated with the Casino representatives and am convinced that 20,000 is the minimum they must have.”

This was an erroneous statement of the law (In legislating, the City has virtually total discretion choosing the amount of signage. Also, since the Casino told Metroplex it would use “a maximum of 15,000 sq. ft.”, it is difficult to say there would be no basis for that number.) What Falotico’s assertion accomplished, however, was a virtually end to discussion of a smaller number. No one on the Commission said, “Carl, if you have seen enough detail to know that 20,000 is the correct number, why can’t we see what you saw, or have you explain your conclusion?”

Another telling moment unveiling the need for more information and giving us a glimpse of Company Town control, came when Commissioners were discussing pylons, specifically the 68′ pylon used at Rush Street’s Des Plaines casino. As a Commissioner was telling Rush Street’s representative how we would measure the square footage of signage on the pylon, it was Rush Street’s man, not Corporation Counsel or Development staff, who said Rush Street made a mistake and had overestimated the signage ascribed to its proposed pylon, by 1000 sq. ft. Rush Street counted both sides of the pylon, whereas Schenectady only counts one side of a freestanding sign in measuring square footage. The Rush Street rep then said, “then we can live with 19,000 sq.  ft.” That is where the current 19,000 number came from.

collage Note, however, that no one on the Commission nor on legal or planning staff asked if they might have made other overestimation calculations, perhaps with other two-sided signs.  Corporation Counsel did not explain how they could have made this mistake if City staff had looked closely at Rush Street’s signage needs.  Nor did he offer to go back and look for additional mistakes.  He merely amended the proposal to 19,000 sq. ft.

And, Sixth [Electronic Signs], Chair Copolla brusquely stated they would not deal with the question of reducing the minimum interval for changing electronic message boards and signs to 8 seconds, “because we just did this a couple weeks ago.”  The only reason given by Development staff and the Planning Commission for the recent recommendation of the 8-second interval was to be “consistent with the State standard” announced by NYS Department of Transportation, in the 3-page document “Criteria for Regulating CEVM signs“.  DOT set a  minimum interval of 8 seconds for changing electronic signs, but allows municipalities to be more stringent, with commentary that suggests circumstances that might call for longer intervals.

Those circumstances seem more relevant to the streets near the Casino than to any other parts of the City (i.e., places with higher illumination and more than one message board seen at the same time by the driver, with many distractions; where drivers are unfamiliar with the roads or with a roundabout; and where there are likely to be many senior/elderly drivers, who are especially distracted by changing images and bright illumination). Nonetheless, the proposed amendments make Article IX inapplicable to the Casino, including the requirements for receiving a variable electronic sign permit. The Article IX requirements include issuance of a Special Use Permit after a public hearing, in which the applicant must demonstrate that “the 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.” [§264-14(I)(2)] Neither Mr. Buicko nor the City Staff were asked by the Commissioners why requirements that seem especially relevant to the casino district were no long applicable, or why those requirements should not be added to the C-3 amendment provision allowing 8-second intervals.

Tight Deadline Excuse?: As we have explained previously, there is no tight deadline that could justify rushing to push through the C-3 amendments without full education and deliberation for the decision-makers, and with full information to the public.

The two-year deadline for completion of the project starts when the actual gaming license is granted, and no one knows how long the “vetting” process will take and the license be granted. Meanwhile, the developer still brags about how far along the site is (they had already spent $100 million there over a year ago and much more since), and how they already have their approved Environmental Impact Statement, with brownfield mitigation near to conclusion.  Furthermore, Rush Street was chosen (and touted by the Mayor and Ms. King) because it has significant experience operating casinos, and has already designed casino facilities that are much like the one they will put in Schenectady.  It goes without saying that the Galesi Group, the Capital Region’s largest developer and manager of commercial property, has the experience to get the job done as quickly as possible.  In addition, if any hotel chain can get a hotel designed, constructed and launched within a two-year window, Sheraton can. Moreover, Mohawk Harbor faces none of the sort of local opposition that can tie the project up in court or administrative proceedings for long periods.

rubberstampTooLong In conclusion, one can’t help but wonder if individual members of the Planning Commission winced when they heard people pointing to their thorough deliberation and analysis as a reason for City Council to approve the package of amendments to C-3.  With all due respect, we strongly dissent. There appears to be no explanation for the Planning Commissioners’ dereliction of duty other than its working in a City Hall where rubber stamping is expected of them in order to please the new bosses in our resurrected Company Town.

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 – for another voice asking for more information before the Council votes on the amendments, see the Gazette editorial “Public needs to see the impact of zoning” (Jan. 29, 2015).

follow-up (Feb. 9, 2016): See McCarthy only wants snowmen on his Planning Commission“, regarding Mayor McCarthy’s failure to re-appoint Matthew Cuevas.

decision time: 2 PM Wednesday, December 17

The NYS Gaming Facility Location Board issued a Public Notice this morning stating it will meet at 2 PM, Wednesday, December 17, in Rm. 6 of the Empire State Plaza, for “Consideration of Selection of Applicants to Apply to the Gaming Commission for Gaming Facility Licenses.”   In addition:

• The meeting is open to the public. Seating is first-come, first-served.
• The meeting will be Web streamed on the New York State Gaming Commission’s Web site (www.gaming.ny.gov).
• Immediately following the meeting, there will be a media briefing for credentialed press only in Meeting Room 7 of the Empire State Plaza.

In reporting this news, the Capitol Confidential blog at the Times Union has again pointed to its July 7th piece “handicapping” the casino race, where the Schenectady casino application is said to be the Capital Region favorite, with 5-2 odds of being selected.  We believe the five members of the Location Board have fully considered our 20-page Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino, and will decide that one of the three other Capital Region applications better fulfills the standards and goals they are to apply in  making their selection.

You can use this short URL to see our full Statement in Opposition, including its Twelve Attachments, and decide for yourselves:  http://tinyurl.com/NotSchenectady

A brief summary of our five major points, along with thumbnails and links to the twelve attachments, can be found at this posting.

cropped-nocasinoschdy.jpg OUR FIVE MAIN REASONS for OPPOSING the SCHENECTADY CASINO, as fully explained in our Statement in Opposition:

  1. Unlike the other Capital Region locations proposed to the Board, the Schenectady Casino is the only Location Well on its Way to Being Fully Developed without a Casino, and Schenectady already has a Vibrant and Successful Development Process.  In addition, the Applicant claims that the casino would remove the largest brownfield in New York State, but the site remediation process is almost complete and will be completed without the casino, as it is an integral part of the developer’s $200 million Mohawk Harbor mixed-use project.  The Board should choose a location that is more in need of casino investment to spur development.
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposal that directly threatens the welfare of a treasured Historic District – the Schenectady Stockade Historic District
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposed location and Applicant that directly threaten the welfare of a full campus of potential young gamblers living no more than a few blocks away.
  1. Mohawk Harbor’s Urban Location has More Disadvantages than Advantages –e.g., increased probability of social ills due to problem gambling, more crime, a more regressive tax structure. It is not a likely “destination casino” and cannot be expected to produce the most revenue and tax benefits for the State and its municipalities.
  1. The Applicant’s Local Support is Less Significant than It Claims and Weaker than in Competing Communities.

 

five major reasons for opposing the Schenectady Casino

noALCOlogo On Monday,   September 22, 2014, two representatives of Stop the Schenectady Casino spoke before the casino Location Board at the Capital Region Public Comment Event. Mohamed Hafez made a rousing presentation of why a casino would harm the people and City of Schenectady, from the perspective of a landlord and businessman and of a resident trying to make a better Schenectady.

In addition, our STATEMENT in OPPOSITION to the Schenectady Casino (20 pages, plus twelve Attachments) was submitted that day to the Location Board, with a signed Cover Letter. A brief summary of the five major points made and explained in the Statement, along with thumbnails and links to the attachments, can be found below.

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OUR FIVE MAIN REASONS for OPPOSING the SCHENECTADY CASINO:

  1. Unlike the other Capital Region locations proposed to the Board, the Schenectady Casino is the only Location Well on its Way to Being Fully Developed without a Casino, and Schenectady already has a Vibrant and Successful Development Process.  The Applicant claims that the casino would remove the largest brownfield in New York State, but the site remediation process is almost complete and would have been done without the casino, as required for the $200 million Mohawk Harbor development.
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposal that directly threatens the welfare of a treasured Historic District – the Schenectady Stockade Historic District
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposed location and Applicant that directly threaten the welfare of a full campus of potential young gamblers living no more than a few blocks away.
  1. Mohawk Harbor’s Urban Location has More Disadvantages than Advantages – e.g., increased probability of social ills due to problem gambling, more crime, a more regressive tax structure.
  1. The Applicant’s Local Support is Less Significant than It Claims and Weaker than in Competing Communities

Here are thumbnails and links to the Twelve Attachments we used to illustrate and supplement our Statement to the Location Board:

  •  #1: a Map of the Vicinity  . Casino-VicinityMapE
  •  #2: Jean Zegger’s one-page history of our Unique Stockade
  •  #3 & #4: two collages showing the beauty and community spirit of the Stockade Neighborhood:

StockadeFlagCollage . . . Casino-LawrenceCollage

  • #5: the Applicant’s Traffic Access Plan targeting Front Street, in the heart of the Stockade ..
    • Casino-AccessDetail

.. #6:

casino-dormCollage . . . a collage showing just how close a Union College dorm is to the casino (i.e., about a block away)

  • #7: Rev. Baron’s Show of Hands . . . .
  • casino-SchdyCo.VoteNov2013BW  #8: a spread sheet showing the Schenectady County Election Results on Proposition One

. . #9 & #10: statements from our religious community condemning the process used by the Schenectady City Council and opposing the casino

  •  FrontStDriveCollage .  . . #11: a trip down Front Street showing the threat of traffic gridlock and other problems caused by casino traffic

. . #12: a sample of our Petition Opposing the Casino, which we are submitting today with 363 signatures, 125 of them by people living in the Stockade Historic District (more people than were members of the Stockade Association over the past year).

 

 

 

 

 

dontforgettack  Capital Region Casino public hearing – “Public Comment Event”
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Holiday Inn, Stonehenge Room A & D, 205 Wolf Road, Colonie
IN-PERSON: Seating is first-come, first-served. Pre-registered speakers should arrive 15 minutes before scheduled time to check-in. Walk-in speakers can register on-site on a first-come, first-served basis.

ONLINE: The full hearing will be streamed live and archived on the Gaming Commission’s website at www.gaming.ny.gov.

Written comments : May be submitted at the event or by email to CapitalRegion@gaming.ny.gov up to seven days after the hearing (September 29, 2014), to be part of the hearing record.  NOTE: Comments received after Sept. 29 will also be considered by the Board as part of its RFA review process.

it’s time to write to the Location Board

– click for a one-page handout with the information below –

updated October 1, 2014:

If you have not done so already, we urge you to let the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board know that you are opposed to having a casino in Schenectady. As part of its casino application review process, the Board will consider all comments, no matter when they are received. Because the Board may make its decision by the end of October, comments should be sent as soon as possible.

Email and Letters can be sent to Gail P. Thorpe: Email address: info@gaming.ny.gov

USPS address: NYS Gaming Commission, Contracts Office, One Broadway Center, Schenectady, NY 12301-7500.

   We believe that the promised benefits claimed for the casino are exaggerated and uncertain, and may be of short duration, as more and more casinos are constructed. Any benefits are clearly outweighed by the negative results that are likely to occur in our community. Moreover, basing the Government’s fiscal policy on casino revenues is inappropriate, as it will unfairly take money from the poor and most vulnerable, and their families.

In addition, Schenectady is not so desperate for development that it should gamble with a casino strategy for economic growth. For years, our leaders have taken credit for revitalizing the City, with many new jobs and businesses, and over $830 million in investment since 2004. Moreover, the Galesi Group says it will develop Mohawk Harbor, and remediate the brownfields, with or without a casino — an investment of $200 million, the biggest in the City’s history. Our proud reputation for manufacturing and technology should not be cashed in for the image of a small-time casino town.

Here are some of reasons that members of Stop the Schenectady Casino have for our opposition to having a casino operated at Mohawk Harbor (the old ALCO plant site) by Rush Street Gambling:

  • Injury to local businesses due to the casino taking a large portion of dollars consumers in this area would spend on leisure and entertainment, with most visitors coming from less than 50 miles, causing business bankruptcies, staff reductions, closings. The amenities at the casino will keep day-trippers on the casino lot, not out spreading their wealth across the community.
  • An increase in crime, such as drug sales, prostitution, purse-snatching, DUI, car theft and break-ins, especially near the casino, plus domestic violence; and embezzlement, fraud and financial crimes;
  • More problem gambling, and gambling by the elderly and the very poor, with a casino close-by and open 24/7, bringing much stress and injury to families as well as the entire community.
  • A serious threat to the Stockade Neighborhood’s residential nature, despite its legal protection as a historic district, with more crime and traffic, due to having a casino only a few blocks away.
  • Danger for Young Gamblers, with the Union College campus within half of a mile, and its biggest dorm one block away. Studies show that younger gamblers are more vulnerable to becoming problem gamblers, especially if they drink heavily, have easy access to a casino, and have friends who gamble. Rush Street Gambling’s experience marketing to potential young gamblers makes the location particularly worrisome.

For more information, discussion, photos, links to reference material, and more, browse this website.

10 of 17 casino applicants accept FairGame’s terms

 The Albany Times Union reported this afternoon that: “The Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fairgame” said Tuesday that it has reached agreements with 10 of the 17 casino applicants seeking casino licenses in the three upstate regions eligible for commercial gambling halls.” (“Entertainment coalition nets majority of casino bidders“, Capitol Confidential Blog, by James M. Odato, July 1, 2014). The three Capital Region applicants that have partnered with “FairGame” are Schenectady’s Rush Street Gaming, the Hard Rock Café in Rensselaer, and the Howe Caverns Casino.

According to TU’s Capitol Confidential, Philip Morris, CEO of Proctors and chairman of Fairgame, said:

“While we were not able to come to accord with a number of other applicants, the agreements we have reached are significant. They clearly declare the size and scope of casino entertainment plans; they have joint booking agreements that will guarantee access for the casinos and for Fairgame members to touring performers; they support the Fairgame Fund for those same facilities; and they establish arts granting programs for smaller organizations in every region. Finally, should the plans the casinos propose be significantly changed, each applicant has agreed to mitigate those impacts with additional support.”

SlicingThePie By also reaching agreement with seven applicants in the two other Upstate regions that are eligible for casino licenses, the “FairGame” Coalition (a/k/a The Concert Cartel) may end up achieving joint booking and venue-size limitations, and a revenue-sharing agreement with each of the 3 or 4 winning casinos.  That could mean the equivalent of territorial exclusivity, and joint booking and ticket pricing, for all/each of FairGame members, across all of the eastern portion of Upstate New York, through midState locations such as Utica and Syracuse, and apparently stretching to their members in the Western end of the State.

Will the members of the FairGame Coalition be allowed to try to leverage the protection that the State meant to give local and regional entertainment venues from local casinos into a vast network of competition-killing promises among themselves and between each entertainment center and far-spread casinos covering several large regions, and perhaps all of Upstate New York?

NYg My “State Action” Analysis: To survive antitrust scrutiny, the FairGame group would need to justify such clearly anticompetitive joint action with a “state action” defense: the claim that their action is immunized from the antitrust laws because of the actions and policy of the State where the conduct takes place.  However, just last year, in its FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health Sys. Inc. (No. 11-1160, 2013) opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated that state-action immunity is a disfavored exception that will get careful examination before being accepted. The Phoebe Putney Court further stressed that to successfully invoke state-action immunity, state laws should be explicit in their intent to displace competition.  In addition, although the issue was not reached in Phoebe Putnam, prior cases have required that the state must “actively supervise” the conduct that would otherwise be deemed anticompetitive where — as here — the actors are private parties rather than governmental entities.

The FairGame Coalition may be able to show that New York State wanted to limit the competition that entertainment venues would normally face from a nearby casino, when it passed The Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013.  But they cannot show that the State wanted to greatly reduce competition among the major art and entertainment centers themselves, or even between the arts venues and casinos that would not normally be considered part of their local entertainment market.  The Act merely requires that the Siting Board evaluate whether the applicant has established:

“a fair and reasonable partnership with live entertainment venues that may be impacted by a gaming facility under which the gaming facility actively supports the mission and the operation of the impacted entertainment venues.” [§1320(3)(2)(D)]

As of COB today, I have not received any sort of reply from the State Attorney General’s office on the antitrust Complaint that I submitted last Friday. See our June 28th posting “arts venues want more than a fair game“.

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follow-up (March 8, 2017): An article in today’s Schenectady Daily Gazette, “Rivers Casino, Proctors team up for entertainment: ‘In no way, shape or form do I feel like we’re competitors” (by Brett Samuels, A1, March 8, 2017), suggests that my fears expressed above and in a prior post were warranted. See “a wicked concert cartel?” (March 8, 2017).

psst: the casino cash cow has too many calves

toomanycalves

too many calves!

 An article in the Wall Street Journal this week revealed the Big Secret that everyone who’s done a little research, or just reads a newspaper regularly, already knows:  The great expansion of casinos in the Northeast over the past decade is “causing upheaval in the region.”  “Casino boom pinches northeastern states” (Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2014)  Indeed:

“States that adopted gambling earlier than their neighbors, such as Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia, are watching dollars drain away, and new projects have some wondering how many facilities the area can support. Twenty-six casinos have opened since 2004, fueling a 39% increase in total annual gambling revenue in the mid-Atlantic and New England, according to a study by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Within 100 miles of Philadelphia, there now are 24 casinos, a big shift from the early 1990s, when Atlantic City, N.J., enjoyed an East Coast monopoly. At least a dozen more gambling spots are in the pipeline from Massachusetts to Maryland, raising fears in states such as Rhode Island that their casino tax windfall is at risk.

In reaction to the resulting dwindling of revenues:

  • Delaware casinos are asking the State for a $20 million tax break. “Delaware’s proposed tax relief for casinos, which needs legislative approval, would lower the table-game tax rate, eliminate fees and shift vendor costs to the state.”
  • “Delaware officials say declining gambling money—down 29% since fiscal 2011—is one reason the state cut 538 public jobs over the past five years.”
  • Public services have been reduced, in places like Ocean County, N.J., “because of a dip in casino revenues that fund programs for the elderly and disabled.”
  • Connecticut has forecast a 5% decline in state revenue from casinos in fiscal 2016 and a 20% drop the following year, and “Rhode Island is projecting it will lose about $422 million in casino revenue over the next five years, contributing to budget struggles.”

threemonkeys Somehow, the Casino Cheerleaders that have steamrolled approval of the Schenectady casino through the City Council and County Legislature seem oblivious to these trends. Maybe Mayor Gary McCarthy or County Planner Ray Gillen have some secret plan that will make Schenectady immune from the forces that have greatly reduced projections of casino revenues and put overly-reliant government budgets at risk.  As the casino cash cow is sucked dry by all those hungry calves, maybe the ALCO pig can fly and Galesi’s Goose really does lay golden eggs.

update (July 1, 2014):  Yesterday, the same day that 16 applicants seeking licenses for 17 UpState casino licenses dropped boxes and flashdrives with their final Applications to the Siting Board, with all their rosy predictions, Moody’s downgraded the outlook for the U.S. gaming industry from “stable” to “negative”.  See “Moody’s downgrades U.S. gaming industry“, TU Capitol Confidential (July 1, 2014, by Benjamin Oreskes”)    Moody’s report notes a “strong indication that U.S. consumers will continue to limit their spending to items more essential than gaming, even as the U.S. economy continues to improve.”

follow-up (July 8, 2014): Noting Atlantic City casinos that have recently declared bankruptcy or closed, along with the Moody’s report discussed above, and the Comptroller’s words of caution (in “DiNapoli: Gaming Revenue Plays Increasing Role In State Budget”  (NYS Comptroller Report, May 2014), the Albany Times Union‘s editorial board said on Sunday that the Siting Board should “Wait on casino licenses” (July 6, 2014).  Here’s part of their discussion:

“These pessimistic prognostications merely underscore what is already known in New York. A lot of people will have to spend a lot of money at the new casinos if they are to deliver what those who pushed the state constitutional amendment had promised: job growth, increased school aid and lower property taxes. Developers of the proposed gaming resort for Schenectady, for example, predict attendance there would be around 7,500 on weekdays and 10,000 on weekend days. It’s hard not to be skeptical.

“The problems in other states suggest that the long-term success of New York’s planned casinos is dubious. And when casinos fail, all you have left is unemployment, empty buildings that can’t pay taxes and calls for a government bailout to rescue a struggling industry.”

For more on this topic, see and our compilation posting, “the unpromising future of casino gambling” (July 14, 2014).

 

casinos bring property values down

  Common sense suggests that living close to a casino will drive down your property values. The tentative conclusions made by the National Association of Realtors Research arm in “Economic Impact of Casinos on Home Prices Literature Survey and Issue Analysis” strongly confirm that assumption.  The paper analyzed information from across the nation, but was done with a focus on the proposed downtown casino in Springfield, Massachusetts.   In addition to looking at the effects on residential realty prices, the Survey presents numerous other factors that could cause negative or positive externalities for a specific casino.

As for home prices, the Survey concludes that “The impact on home values appears to be unambiguously negative. ”  It continues [at 2-3]:

“We estimate that assessed home values will most likely be negatively impacted by $64 to $128 million from the introduction of a casino into Springfield, although there are many variables that could shift the price impact to be either more or less severe. In addition, pathological gambling could result in social costs of $8.4 million per year, possibly significantly higher. Additional foreclosures could produce costs of $5 million per year. Finally, there would probably be a negative impact on local retail businesses as local consumer expenditures were diverted to some degree to casino gaming, and a need for additional government expenditures to provide needed public services (police, fire, medical, etc.).”

SlicingThePie Another factor emphasized in the Survey is distances between casinos. “Casinos that are close to each other tend to split the available business, reducing profitability.”  Thus, “In the case of Springfield Massachusetts a significant level of sustained patronage as a destination casino appears unlikely given the saturation of gaming venues in the New England and New York region.”

A casino in Schenectady would, of course, also face the saturation problem, and would be in direct competition with one located in downtown Springfield, which is about 100 miles away.