Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid

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

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

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

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

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

Email Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE BUSES TO MGM Springfield?

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

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

SteckAtRiversCasino

Phil Steck at Rivers Casino

 Marketing Allowance? For some reason, we are supposed to believe that a Marketing Allowance is not a tax break, although it would reduce River Casino’s gaming tax burden by 10% of the Casino’s marketing expenses. Last year, we noted on this topic that: “In the TU article “Casino seeks state help in marketing” (Sept. 29, 2018), Assemblyman Phil Steck is far from elegant defending Rivers Casino request for a 10% marketing allowance reduction in its gaming tax obligations to the State”:

“It’s not saying, ‘State, come in and give us money’; it’s saying, ‘We believe we need to expand the market for our product, we need an allowance for marketing,’ and I think that’s a reasonable position for a business to take,” said Steck, a Democratic lawmaker from Colonie, of the request by the Schenectady casino, which is located on the former Alco site on Erie Boulevard.

“What they’re saying is, ‘If we spend 10 cents on marketing instead of giving you 100 cents on that dollar, we’re going to give you 90 cents,’ and that makes a lot of sense because if the total amount of revenue expands as a result of their marketing effort, the state’s going to make more money anyway and so will the city,” Steck said.

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

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

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

 

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

RiversCasino-eastentrance

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

Slots and Problem Gambling Prevention

SCHENECTADY HAS A SLOTS GAMBLING PROBLEM

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

MGM Resorts “GameSense” Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 AWARENESS & ACTION? 

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

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

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

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

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

MGM Resorts Facebook PGAM post

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

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

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

image by Jeff Boyer/Times Union

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

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

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

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

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

RIVERS CASINO at MOHAWK HARBOR:

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

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

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

MGM RESORTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROBLEM GAMBLING CANADA

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

An excellent example is this list of factors involved in

Low Risk and Harmful Gambling

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

Low-risk gambling means you:

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

Harmful gambling means you have started to:

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

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

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

  1. WE PLEDGE TO COMMUNICATE HOW GAMES WORK

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

  2. WE PLEDGE TO OFFER YOU KNOWLEDGE YOU CAN USE

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

  3. WE PLEDGE TO KEEP IT FUN

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

  4. WE PLEDGE TO BE THERE WHEN YOU NEED US

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

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

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

NY Council on Problem Gambling  

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

On its Media Resources page, NYCPG says:

NYCPG MEDIA

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

Empty Spaces” video

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

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

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

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

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

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

  . . .   . . . 

OASAS ProblemGambling Brochures

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safer Gambling Tips

High-Risk vs. Low-Risk Gambling

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

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

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

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

 . . .

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

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

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

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

Year Three Begins: slots still reign at Rivers Casino

. . .

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

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

AnnivMoCompare

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

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

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

 . .

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

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

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

We also noted in that post:

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

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

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poorly planned safety railing erected along Mohawk Harbor trail

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

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

MHTrail29OctC . . MHTrail29OctB

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

. . above photos taken October 29, 2018 . . 

ORIGINAL POST . . October 15, 2018

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

IMG_8948

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

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

IMG_8953 . . ALCOtrailFence2

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

Hello, Christine,

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

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

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


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

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


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

Railings

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

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

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

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

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

David

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

ALCOTrailFence11Oct

IMG_8987

ALCOTrailSafety

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

how is Rivers improving its numbers?

Schenectady Gazette business editor John Cropley wrote an article today describing the improved financial numbers coming from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor for the first six months of 2018, compared to 2017. See “Rivers Casino financials improve in first half of 2018“, July 16, 2018) Cropley tells us:

abacus Halfway through 2018, Rivers Casino & Resort is showing improved financial performance, with revenue in every month so far this year stronger than in the same month of 2017.

The facility, which opened on the Schenectady waterfront in February 2017, reported gross gaming revenue — money gambled minus winnings paid to gamblers — was up 15 percent for the February-June 2018 period.

Taxes paid on the gross gaming revenue in February-June 2018 were up 19.7 percent from the same period in 2017.

If Casino revenues continue at this pace for the entire year, Schenectady’s reduced projection of its casino income for 2018 — $2.3 million in gaming tax dollars from the State — will be met.  [For background, see our posting “Casino Reality vs. Casino Projections“; and “TU compares casino revenue reality to casino projections“.]

NoComment-thanks My curiosity was piqued, of course, when I saw these words in today’s Gazette article:

 Officials at Rivers would not comment on what the casino has been doing to improve its financial performance.

GGR-Apr-JunCompare

That got me wondering what they are hiding, since simply saying something like “we’re advertising more and doing more promotions”, or similar explanations, would not be compromising their competitive position by leaking trade secrets. Several possible reasons came to mind, and related questions led me to look at some of the Rivers casino revenue figures from 2017 and 2018. I focused on the past three months of 2018, April through June, and the same period for 2017. (I hope that journalists or policy wonks with better tools and incentives than I will want to compare all the available months.) Click the image to the right above to see the figures for April to June; and click this link to do your own number crunching: Rivers Casino Weekly Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) figures.

As a result of my dipping into the Rivers GGR numbers, I learned that, for the second quarter of 2018, the 14 weeks from April through June, as compared to the same period from 2017:

  • Total GGR was up just over 18%
  • GGR from Slots/ETGs was up almost 33%
  • GGR from Table Games was down about 1%

The Slots increase is, therefore, driving the improved 2018 numbers on the Mohawk. There is no obvious reason to expect the trend the rest of the year is or will be significantly different.

senior-playing-slots As we reported here, 63.6% of total GGR in 2017 at Rivers Casino Schenectady was from slots and electronic table games. It appears that an even larger percentage will come from slots in 2018.  Dependence on Slots GGR almost certainly means that Rivers is not attracting high-rollers from distance places, but is instead counting on a very local market and more than casual customers. And, while we know that not every slots player is a senior citizen, and many seniors are quite savvy about gambling and its risks, researchers tell us that senior are particularly susceptible to casino pitches, while being less likely to seek help for problem gambling symptoms. Moreover, our prior remarks seem pertinent still:

Thanks, Gramps! [B]ecause Slot revenues are taxed at 45%, but table and poker revenues at 10%, slot players are transferring their money to the State, County and City to reduce our taxes to a much higher degree than Table Game players. Indeed, about 89% of the gambling tax paid by Rivers Casino [in its first year came] from slot dollars. If slots are mostly played by senior citizens, any local tax break is mainly being paid for by Grandma and Grandpa, and Auntie Tillie (and, of course, other vulnerable groups, such as the poor).

In addition, reporting by Times Union “data journalist” Cathleen Crowley suggests another potentially disturbing factor related to reliance on slots for increased GGR: Rivers Casino may be paying out too little to its slots players. See “This is how much the casinos are making from slots, poker and table games” (Times Union, Cathleen F. Crowley, Sept. 24, 2017). According to the TU article, Rivers has far more money at the end of the day in each slot machine [“win per unit”] than its Upstate competitors: $222 earned per day for Rivers; $197 for Tioga Downs; $155 for del Lago, while the Las Vegas average win per slot machine in 2016 was $209. Here’s a chart from the Times Union (click on it for a larger version) that makes the point:

TU-DailySlotRevs

  • Looking at the Win Per Unit over the same three-month time period, the average per week went from 191.28 from April-June in 2017, to 252.85 for those months in 2018.

So, it seems Rivers is bringing in more of the type of player who plays slots and ETGs (Electronic Table Games), or getting them to sit longer and visit more, and is paying out less on Slots/ETGs than other casinos. Has the mix between Slots and ETGs change significantly? Is Rivers working harder at bringing folks in from Senior Centers or churches? Is “grandma” paying even more this year for our gaming tax revenues, while waiting to see how much Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Council will cut her property taxes?

It seems the moaning we hear and read about the poor returns from slots at Rivers may be warranted. How long can that go on? Is this why Rivers does not want to talk about how it gets its increased GGR? As always, if we have gotten this wrong or even slightly askew, we hope the folks at Rivers Casino or other experts will explain it to us, so we can fine-tune, reconsider, explain it better. 

01_sm0714_cover107-border

For background on how slot machine revenues might be optimized, see “Management” (by A. Cardno and R. Thomas, from Slot Management & Marketing Magazine). The authors suggest that a high WPU [win per unit] may be problematic from the player’s perspective.

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ooh update (July 20, 2018): The GGR for the week ending July 15, 2018, $2,709,766, is the worst since the week ending April 1, 2018. And, it is 30% lower than the GGR for the week ending July 16, 2017, which was $3,882,454, although Slots revenue last week was up 10% from the corresponding week in 2017.

too many underage gamblers at Rush Street facilities?

underagegambler The Times Union (here) and the Gazette (here) are reporting that Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor’s operator, Rush Street Gaming, is appealing a penalty under consideration by a NYS Gaming Commission hearing examiner for violations of “regulations regarding permitting an underage patron on the gambling floor” and “permitting a person under 21 to make a wager at its facility.” Rivers wouldn’t discuss the dispute at this point, pointing to the pending hearings.

You may recall that Rush Street was fined $6000 last year for allowing a minor to gamble at its Schenectady Rivers Casino. 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). 

In 2016, Rush Street touted its record for ensuring that only appropriate persons are allowed in its casinos:

“We have a strong history when it comes to responsible gaming at our other properties, including operating under statewide self-exclusion policies, and we look forward to continuing that same record of excellence in Schenectady.” (See “New York to step up effort to battle problem gambling“, by Haley Viccaro, Schenectady Gazette, March 2, 2016).

SugarHouseEntryway

Despite that assertion, a bit of Googling this evening uncovered numerous instances of Rush Street casino cousins in Pennsylvania being fined for violating underage gaming regulations. For example, on October 4th, 2017, the Pennsylvania Gaming Board fined Rush Street’s SugarHouse Casino $10,000 for failing to prevent underage access to the gaming floor. As we noted two years ago, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board had also announced, in a press release on May 23, 2012, that SugarHouse was fined $70,000 “for seven instances where underage individuals [ranging in age from 17 to 20] engaged in gaming.”

Similarly, the Rivers Pittsburgh casino has had multiple underage gaming fines. For example, in February 26, 2014, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board levied a fine of $15,000 against Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh for permitting an underage patron to gamble and consume alcohol at its property. The Pa. Board had also levied a $45,000 fine, in November of 2012, for four such incidents earlier that year.

  • Moreover, Schenectady’s Pennsylvania Cousin Casinos have both also had multiple fines for permitting persons on the self-exclusion list to gamble, and even for extending credit, and sending solicitations to such persons. E.g., here and there.  Should we expect the same here, too?

The fines are obviously meant to motivate better procedures and practices to prevent underage and self-exclusion-list patrons into the Casino. Perfection can’t be achieved, but a real commitment, starting at the top and embraced by all Rivers employees, will hopefully mean a lot fewer violations. “Expect Tough Monitoring” should be the message in our community — especially aimed at our area colleges and high schools.

Here is an excerpt from an earlier post at this website, discussing underage gambling:

propshopsrules 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).

Reallyatstake.png

 

 

Also, check out a program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, called “What is Really At Stake“, to learn about the risks of underage gambling.

Consequences

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a slow week at Mohawk Harbor?

Amphitheater, 3 PM Memorial Day

 Quick online searching* confirmed my assumption that casino resorts would be among the most popular destinations for America’s millions of travelers over the Memorial Day Weekend. So, given a refreshing breeze and blue skies, I was a little surprised by how few people were out and about at Mohawk Harbor mid-afternoon on Memorial Day. I had stopped by to catch the tail end of the Rollin’ on the River Car Show and Auction, hosted by Rivers Casino, and then spent about an hour sitting and strolling around the grounds and taking photos.

During my visit on Memorial Day:

  • There was only one boat docked in the Marina the entire time. [The same was true on my return the next day; however, on May 30, there were three boats docked, the most I have ever seen in the Marina.]
  • No kayaks appeared to be checked out [ditto May 29, 30]
  • No one else used any of the picnic tables or played on the large lawns between the River House and the Casino
  • A few pairs of bicyclists and a couple of dog walkers used the mixed-used path that runs through Mohawk Harbor, but I saw none of them stop while traversing Mohawk Harbor.
  • No one spread a blanket or sat at the lovely, manicured Amphitheater, despite its unobstructed view of the Marina.

CasinoRevs01Jun2018 Perhaps all the Holiday Weekend trekkers had already started their return trips home, or were squeezing in one last cook-out at a relative’s or friend’s backyard. It made me wonder, though, how much gaming action had been going on at Rivers Casino over the weekend. The weather on Saturday and Sunday had enough rain in the forecast to motivate indoors activity such as that found inside the Casino. So, I checked out the weekly Revenues report for Rivers Casino that went online yesterday, Friday June 1st. However, as you can see by clicking on the image to the left of this paragraph, last week Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor had its worst week for gaming revenues since the end of March, with a total GGR of $2,876,146 for the week ending Sunday May 27, 2018.

If you have not spent time on the greener side of Mohawk Harbor, you might enjoy this Slideshow, which has photos taken May 28, 29 and 30, 2018.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

.

view north toward River from Amphitheater

*/According to the AAA, the draw of gambling made Las Vegas NV the 4th most chosen destination for Memorial Day Weekend. 2018. Gambling hubs such as Denver and Phoenix were also in the top ten destinations list for the holiday weekend.

 coming in June, Druther’s at River House . . MHDruthers30May2018

SPORTS BETTING along the Mohawk (with updates)

 This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which dates back to 1992, and is known as PASPA.  PAPSA prohibited most States, including NJ and NY, from allowing sports betting. For a good analysis of the decision (understandable for the non-lawyer) see the premier weblog covering the Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog, “Opinion Analysis: Justices strike down federal sports gambling law“. The Court decision is called Murphy [as Governor of New Jersey] v. NCAA; click here for a pdf. version of the full opinion.

This website will surely treat this topic again, to see how it impacts NYS and especially commercial casinos such as Rives Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Two important points (and see the Red Check below for updated information from theTimes Union):

  • Under the current gaming law, only full casinos may offer sports betting once it is legal under federal law. They must get a specific license for that. “Racinos”, such as the Saratoga Casino, already have let it be known that they want a law letting them do it, too.
  • Under the current NYS Gaming Law, slot machine revenues at Rivers Casino are taxed at a 45% rate, and any other type of gaming revenues are taxed at 10%.  And, according to the Times Union, “State Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee Chair John Bonacic carries legislation that would  . . . impose a state tax of 8.5 percent on sports wagering gross revenue.” So, if Rivers Casino slots players move a significant amount of their money over to the Casino’s Sports Betting lounge, or another Sports Wagering location (including online offerings), tax revenues from Rivers may decline, despite more betting go on at the Casino. Naturally, Rivers Casino hopes to lure sports bettors into other parts of the Casino, adding to gaming revenues.

Before 11 AM today, the Albany Times Union put online a good, short explanation on the possible impact on NYS casinos and racinos, in “Supreme Court ruling opens prospect of NY sports gamblingFour major NY casinos may be able to offer sports books” (by David Lombardo, online May 14, 2018). Here are excerpts from the TU article: 

The state law that allowed commercial live-table casinos in New York included a provision authorizing wagering on sporting events if the federal law was found unconstitutional or changed. Casinos must have a license specifically to offer sports gambling and gambling on sports can only be offered in “lounge” areas at a casino.
. . . Under current law, gambling operators besides the commercial live-table casinos, such as NYRA, the Saratoga Casino Hotel and Capital OTB, would be shut out from offering sports betting. But legislation from Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican and chair of the state Senate’s racing committee, would allow those operators to act as affiliates to the casinos and offer sports wagering.
. . James Featherstonhaugh, a minority owner in Saratoga Casino Hotel, anticipated the state Legislature could begin working on legislation addressing sports gambling this week.
 “I would expect it to be a lively topic between now and the end of the legislative session,” he said.
red check update (May 14, 2018, 7 PM): The Times Union has updated its article significantly, changing its subheadline to “State legislature will likely overhaul gambling landscape”, and reporting that
  1. “Gambling operators and state legislators in New York are scrambling to craft a new regulatory framework”
  2. ” The state Gaming Commission must also adopt regulations and issue a sports gambling license before the casinos could offer sports wagering. That process will likely be preempted by the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. . .Cuomo, speaking to reporters in Manhattan on Monday, rejected the idea that sports gambling in New York could be rolled out using the broad framework crafted in 2013. He said a new law was needed if the state wanted to proceed with sports gambling.” “We’ll do an economic analysis and a legal analysis, but nothing’s going to happen this year because there’s literally just a number of days left in the legislative session and this would be a very, very big issue to tackle,” Cuomo said.
  3.  The only local player with the potential to offer sports gambling under current law is the Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady, which has been eagerly preparing for the Supreme Court decision, according to their parent company, Rush Street Gaming.”We look forward to adding sports betting across all our gaming platforms as soon as possible,” Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin said in a statement.
  4. State Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee Chair John Bonacic carries legislation that would allow for sports gambling on online platforms, impose a state tax of 8.5 percent on sports wagering gross revenue, collect fees for the operators of sports leagues, and authorize gambling on college sports.

follow-up (1 AM, May 15, 2018): The Schenectady Gazette put up a comprehensive piece online this evening. See “Sports betting legalized, will be added in Schenectady as soon as possible“, by John Cropley.  In the article, both Greg Carlin of Rush Street Gaming and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy say they want to bring sports betting to Schenectady as soon as possible. In a comment to the Gazette article, I raised the same theme as above on the questionable size of any increase in overall tax revenues to be paid by Rivers:

[Comment by David Giacalone:] Mayor McCarthy is already counting chickens early and praying for golden eggs. If enough slots betting (taxed at 45%) is instead bet on sports (taxed at 5 or 8.5 or 10%), taxes paid by Rivers Casino to the State may amount to a lot less than expected, even if Rivers revenues rise. Grandpa and Uncle Joe might just head for the Sports Wagering Lounge at Rivers, leaving Grandma and Aunt Tillie at the slots; or, all four of them might decide that sports wagering can be a lot more stimulating than a slots trance. As a result, former slots players might generate a lot less tax revenue even though visiting Rivers Casino as often as before.

I know why Rivers Casino wants to start sports wagering ASAP, but I am not so sure why the Mayor of Schenectady is in such a big hurry.

  • In a related matter, in case you missed the news, as of May 4, 2018, Capital OTB now has a branch inside Van Slyck’s Bar at Rivers Casino.
update (July 17, 2018): David Lombardo of the Times Union Capitol Confidential Blog posted a piece yesterday afternoon titled “State looks to offer online sports gambling without new law” (July 16, 2018).  That position by the State Gaming Commission is contrary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stated preference in May. Commission acting-Executive Director Ron Ochrym said to the board. “There are however, a number of thorny policy [areas] that staff have been considering, including whether the existing law can be read so as to authorize mobile wagering without new statutory enactments, and, if so, whether to limit the number of skins available.” The TU blog notes that the State law reads: “An operator shall accept wagers on sports events only from persons physically present in the sports wagering lounge”.
  • And see, “New York preps limited rollout of sports betting” (Times Union, August 8, 2018, by David Lombardo). “The state Gaming Commission is working on regulations that would make sports gambling available at New York’s four privately run full-scale casinos, including Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady.

    SlicingThePie “But beyond the casinos, sports gambling probably won’t initially be allowed at other wagering-industry operations, such as the New York Racing Association tracks or the Saratoga Casino Hotel. It’s also unlikely to be available on mobile platforms, according to state Sen. John Bonacic. . . .  It’s not clear when those draft regulations will be publicized, even though [Gaming Commission acting-Executive Director Ron Ochrym] said at the commission’s May meeting that they would be available ‘in the near term. The consensus of the gambling community in New York is that the commission is waiting for a green light from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to release the regulations.”

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BTW: Amy Howe’s analysis of Murphy v. NCAA for SCOTUSblog points out that:

Today’s ruling could also have a much broader reach, potentially affecting a range of topics that bear little resemblance to sports betting. For example, supporters of so-called “sanctuary cities” – cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws – have cited the 10th Amendment in recent challenges to the federal government’s efforts to implement conditions on grants for state and local law enforcement. Challenges to the federal government’s recent efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for either recreational or medical use may also be based on the 10th Amendment.

a quick look at del Lago’s exterior

 . . 

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

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

delLagoHotelRear

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

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

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Here are two more views of the del Lago Hotel:

IMG_6681 . . IMG_6679

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

IMG_6696  . . IMG_6694

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

. . IMG_6667 . .

IMG_6669

IMG_6666

UpstateNYMap2018

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

IMG_6673

Casino Projections vs. Casino Reality

 

RiversProjectionGame2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

TU compares revenue reality to casino projections

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

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

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

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

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

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

 sold their Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., just four years after it opened, and after failing in their immediate request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Incumbent Councilman John Mootooveren:

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

In contrast, Candidate Mohamed Hafez:

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

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

Gazette covers half-year Casino revenues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Issue:

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

The Stakes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RiversDPCasinoWindfall

Rivers Des Plaines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

another nadir on the River (with updates & lowdowns)

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

RiversRev23June2017

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

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

Original Posting

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

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

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

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

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record decline at Rivers Casino Schenectady

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivers revenues down 4th straight week (with updates)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • RiversSchdyRevs31Mar2017 update (March 31, 2017): For the week ending March 26, 2017, Schenectady’s Rivers Casino had its first increase in revenues in over a month. The total GRR, $3,613, 222, was the best take for the Casino since its first full week, with a 31% increase over the prior week’s dismal GRR, which was the Casino’s lowest ever. As you can see from the composite below of the Rivers Casino Total Gross Gaming Revenues Report, there were significant increases in slots (16%) and table games (57%!), with poker revenues up almost 9%.

RiversCasinoRevs31Mar2017

As expected, the Schenectady Gazette never reported that Rivers Casino had four straight weeks of GRR decline, but I’m betting this increase will be up soon at their website and in Saturday’s hardcopy newspaper.


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

 Front St. at N. Church. . DSCF2601

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

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

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

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

a wicked concert cartel?

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

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

feelin’ blue

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

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

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

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

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

trust-buster needed

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

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

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

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

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  • MGMSpringfield-render . . MGMSpringfield-rend2 update (July 31, 2018): See the Times Union “New competition for Capital Region gambling dollars” (by David Lombard, July 26, 2018), an article about MGM Springfield, the almost-billion-dollar casino opening August 24th, just 100 miles away in Western Massachusetts, and already being advertised heavily on local tv as a true Las Vegas-style casino. To us, it looks like a destination resort (see images at the head of this blurb), not a mediocre regional facility like Rivers Casino. Follow-up (March 29, 2019) Rush Street Gaming is now using MGM Springfield as an excuse for seeking tax breaks from the NYS Legislature. See “Schenectady casino seeks lower tax rates: Tax credit floated as relief” (Albany Times Union, by David Lombardo, March 29, 2019); “Rivers Casino takes another crack at a tax cut: Schenectady facility says highest tax rate among New York casinos puts it at a disadvantage” (Schenectady Gazette, March 28, 2019). See our posting, “Rush Street must think our Legislators are pretty stupid” rebutting Rush Street’s claims (March 29, 2019).

ORIGINAL POSTING

UpstateNYMap2018 If you lived more than 40 or 50 miles from Schenectady, would you choose Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its touted $320 million investment by Rush Street Gaming, over the half dozen other casino choices in upstate New York? More than once? (Click on the Upstate NY Casino Map to the right for a larger version; Google Map.)

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

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

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

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

. . del Lago  dellagocasino  . .

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

tiogacasinofront . . Tioga Downs Casino  . . tiogaentrancetwc

Montreign Casino . . montreignentrance

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

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

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

dellagocasino30jan2017 

  • follow-up: see our posting “a quick look at del Lago’s exterior” (April 7, 2018), which has many photos taken April 2, 2018 on-site, plus some comparable images from Schenectady’s Rivers Casino.

 

  • tiogacasinocollage Tioga Downs Casino, in Nichols NY, has been revamped (with a $122 million capital investment) and is already opened (since December 2016) in the Southern Tier, with a “country-fair themed” experience; click the collage to the right for more images of Tioga.
  • saratogacasino [on left] The upgraded Saratoga Casino and Raceway [FAQs], which is about 22 miles up Rt. 50 from Schenectady, is located in a proven tourist town that offers good taste, upscale shopping, and history; it is still a “racino”, but has over 1700 slot machines and electronic table games;
  • montreigncasinovThe Resorts International Catskills Casino  [f/k/a Montreign Casino at Monticello (image on right)], scheduled to open early next year, with a much larger budget [$1.3 billion when the complex is completed] than Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and the vision of renewing the Catskills as a top-level tourist destination, with a four-star hotel (and a less pricey one being built in its expansive entertainment center), and, a top-flight gold course. Follow-up (Dec. 26, 2017): In “Bet on busy flights to casino: Resorts World downstate to fly in gamblers from Newburgh-area airport” (Times Union, by Rick Karlin, A1, Dec. 26, 2107), we learn of plans by Resorts World to fly in high-rollers from around the world. The Albany Airport has not yet noticed any flyers coming here for the casinos.
    • CatskillWaterpark The Times Union also has reported (by Eric Anderson, Jan. 17, 2018) on a two-acre indoor waterpark being built by a Colonie firm for the Catskills casino’s  Kartrite Hotel. “The new hotel and waterpark, a more than $150 million project, will open in early 2019 and be one of three hotels on the campus.”

and, of course,

  • turning-stone-casino The Oneida National tribal casino-resort Turning Stone at Verona, NY, is 24-years old and doing $20 million in upgrades to compete with del Lago; and
  • FallsViewFallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, ON Canada, opened in 2004 as a $1 billion investment. It is owned by the Government of Ontario, and managed by a consortium that includes a company owned by Neil Bluhm, the original developer of Fallsview, and the primary owner of Rush Street Gaming. [image on the right]

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

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

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

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

riverscasino-erieapproach

a look at Erie Blvd.

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

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

MinorLeagueSchdy

Rush Street designs

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

APPENDIX – Distances from various cities to the casinos

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