Slotsification on the Mohawk

SmokinHotSlotsB

a Smoking Patio with slots & drinks means non-stop slots play!!

The lower-than-projected total of gambling dollars and customers brought in by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in its first year of operation disappointed just about everybody. (See, e.g., our post on Projections vs. Reality.) So, it is understandable that the increase so far this year in Gross Gambling Revenue [the amount bet minus winnings paid out, called “GGR”] has been broadly welcomed in our community. Nonetheless, Sara Foss at the Schenectady Gazette was correct to voice concerns last Sunday about the significant increase of gambling revenues this year earned from Slots and other Electronic Table Games [ETG]. See “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018).  That is because the clear consensus of experts and observers is that slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling.

emptyPockets Indeed, from the perspective of potential social costs and harm to gamblers and their families, the situation is very serious. I’ve tabulated the numbers, and it is clear that additional revenue from SLOTS/ETG (Electronic Table Games) is alone fueling the increased gambling revenue at Rivers Casino in its 2nd year of operation. I call this process “Slotsification”.

RiversSlots Below is a comparison of the first six months in which Schenectady’s Rivers Casino was operating [Feb. to July of 2017] with the same six months in 2018, after one full year of operation. I used the most recent Monthly report posted at the Gaming Commission’s site, and the Casino’s weekly reports.
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FEBRUARY to JULY 2018 – Gross Gambling Revenue [GGR] at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (Schenectady), compared to February to July 2017, the first six months of operation at Rivers Casino:
 
TOTAL GGR – 9.7% increase [$6,830,160]
    2017 Feb-July            $70,080,214
    2018 Feb-July            $76,910,374 
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SLOTS/ETG GGR – 19.3% increase [$8,510,139]
    2017 Feb-July            $44,054,616
    2018 Feb-July            $52,564,755 
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TABLE GAME GGR – – down 6.0% [$1,297,613]
   2017 Feb-July             $22,886,161
   2018 Feb-July             $21,588,548 
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POKER TABLE GGR – – down 11.7% [$368,091]
   2017 Feb-July            $3,145,137
   2018 Feb-July             $2,777,046 
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In sum, Total GGR is up almost 10% at Rivers Casino, with Slots/ETG revenue up 19.3%, but both Table Game and Poker Game GRR down compared to the same months in 2017. The increase is all from Slots.
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prayinghandsS Caution: Rivers Casino better hope (and pray) that July 2018 is a fluke, because Total GGR for that month was down 3.3% compared to July 2017, despite a 19.4% increase in Slots/ETG GGR. The 41.1% Table Game drop is downright scary. (See our Doldrums posting)
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In addition, looked at in the aggregate, Slots/ETG revenues were 63% of GGR in Feb-July of 2017; but they were 68% of GGR in Feb-July of 2018. [In fact, for the first three weeks of August 2018, Total GGR was up 14%, with slots totals increasing 19.5%, and both Table Games and Poker Table play down down in the aggregate.] It would be helpful to know whether more people are choosing to play slots, or whether slots players are playing longer.
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  • AddictionByDesign-Schüll-Cover 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). 
 
Compare other Casinos: Although Slots revenue is up somewhat in Las Vegas recently, slots have been down or sluggish in other regions. Notably, not one of Rush Street’s three other casinos (one in Illinois at Des Plaines; and two in Pennsylvania, SugarHouse in Philadelphia, and Pittsburg Rivers) has had more than a small uptick in slots this year, and many months have been down. [Click for an example of recent Pa. stats; the Des Plaines IL Rivers Casino shows only a 1.32% increase in their slots category (“EGD”) for the first half of 2018; see p. 4 of this Report.]
 
Is Rivers Casino in Schenectady trying to “slotsify” its casino revenue, to maximize its profits? Is this also a result of growing problem gambling among Schenectady’s slots players, along with a growing indifference by those who like table games to spending time along the Mohawk?
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  • What about Millennials? Has Rivers also decided to make more money by luring in millennials, who spend on food, drink and entertainment, rather than on gambling when at Mohawk Harbor? That helps Rush Street and Galesi Group profits, but does not increase gambling tax revenue receipts for the City and County. [See the article on Millennials and Casinos quoted at length below.] The Casino does not have to reach its bloated projections to be a business success. 
 
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.
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AssPhilSteck Will community leaders such as NYS Assemblyman Phil Steck, who say we must help the Casino succeed, turn a blind eye to the added hazard to our Community? Steck, who we’ve been calling “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” since his letter in support of Rivers Casino in June 2014, recently wrote that “Revenue raising is paramount”, after bemoaning the negative effect on the poor and vulnerable. This is, of course, the dilemma casino opponents saw when they opposed bringing one to Schenectady. The monograph “Poverty and Casino Gambling in Buffalo” (Center for the Public Good, by Sam Magavern and Elaina Mulé, January 19, 2011, gives a good summary of the dangers for already-struggling cities that turn to casinos for revenue. And, it highlights the obvious:

“any trend away from slot machines, which are the most lucrative form of casino gambling, would hurt the state’s revenues from casinos. [quoting Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission]

And, consider “State Gambling Revenue Takes Hit as Millennials Bring New Habits to Casinos” (Pew Trust, Stateline Article, by Elaine S. Povich, Sept. 15, 2015), which opens with this statement:

Casinos across the nation are suffering from a generation gap, especially at the slot machines, as young people seek more exotic electronic games like the ones they can play on smartphones from anywhere.

That’s a problem not just for casino operators, but for the 23 states that rely on revenue from casino taxes, particularly from lucrative slots, to help balance their budgets and fund new priorities.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

see-no-evil-monkeyBlue It is easy to be flippant and say, “Don’t ask Casino Opponents, we told you so,” back when our elected and appointed political leaders, and businesses hoping for a Casino Gravy Train, refused to even acknowledge the risks. Well, we did tell you so (e.g., this post), precisely because we feared just this situation: Big Problems without Palatable Solutions. No Answers for getting out of the Casino Casualty Syndrome and the related suffering of families and individuals; lots of temptation to seek more favors for the Casino, such as legislation with tax reductions or gimmicks (such as a marketing allowance), or spending $2 million on a Large Vessel Dock along Mohaw Harbor; plus, a lot of uncertainty and pain for employees at the Casino and associated businesses, if the Casino declines slowly, and especially if it fails and closes.

316-vector-no-evil-monkeys Even if they secretly know the damage that is likely to happen to our Community, the temptation for our “leaders” to push on is great, refusing to confess their short-sighted mistakes, pressuring local businesses and civic groups to patronize Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and looking for legislative “solutions.” One thing for sure, the cognitive dissonance that we hear from politicians like Phil Steck does not help one bit. The Assemblyman tells us:

Perhaps some day there will be no casino at Mohawk Harbor. No one can predict the future; it is sensible to plan for an alternative. But, Rivers is here, so we need it to be as successful as possible. One constituent wrote to me on this subject citing the old adage: “Let’s take the lemons and make them into lemonade.”

LemonLawLogo No one should be surprised that the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor offers us no Lemonade Recipe and suggests no likely ingredients for the mix (other than a “not-a-bailout” tax break in the form of a marketing allowance that is too silly to even call specious). There is no secret, magical “sugar” to sweeten our Casino Lemons, and no law that will tow the wreck away. We are all left puckering up, and wincing, as the future rushes toward Slotsnectady, a City that once could Light and Haul the World, but now glories in “smart” lamp-posts, its homely-but-bossy Casino, and its beer-cultured Renaissance.

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. . this is one of the mastheads we used when this website was called StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com:

noalcocasino-mastb1

. . they gambled with Schenectady’s future, putting possible revenues ahead of the social costs, and acting as if there was nothing to lose . .

Appendix: Why are Slots so Addictive?

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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. 

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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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the riverbank Trail at Mohawk Harbor is not safe

MHtrail3Jul2018a

 . . Updates (July 3 and Oct. 5, 2018): Below we explain the reasons why we believe the Alco Heritage Trail is unsafe. When pressed on the safety issue in June, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen insisted that a fence or guardrail would be installed “soon”. But, I have continued to wonder why neither the County or City, nor the hosting Casino, has installed temporary warnings signs and devices (i.e., quick and inexpensive orange safety cones and yellow tape), to keep visitors away from the steep, rocky slope, and slippery gravel. They plan to host thousands at Mohawk Harbor to see the Fireworks and concerts on July 3 and 4, and many events all summer. [photo at right taken at 11 AM, July 3] So far, the media has shown no interest in this issue.

cautiontaperoll(Oct. 5, 2018): Ray Gillen wrote in an email to the editor of this weblog, in the third week of September, that a fence would be built along the trail buffer “in October.” As of noon October 5, there is neither a fence or guardrail and no temporary warning devices; see the photo below, taken today:

AlcoTrail05Oct2018

Original Posting

ALCOTrailSafetyCollage3

. . the above collage summarizes issues discussed in this web-post (click on it for a larger version)

What did you think the ALCO Heritage bike-pedestrian Trail would look like when completed? The Trail runs through Mohawk Harbor, past the Marina and amphitheater, and behind the Rivers Casino and its Landing Hotel. In each rendering submitted by the developers, Galesi Group and the casino owner and operator Rush Street Gaming, the riverside buffer between the Trail and the Mohawk River is shown green, landscaped and gently sloping to the riverbank. For example:

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. . renderings of rear of Rivers Casino and Hotel: above June 2014; below July 2015 . .

 In addition, when the Site Plan was approved by the Planning Commission in 2015, the relevant and still-current provisions of the C-3 Waterfront Zoning Code of the City of Schenectady stated [emphases added]:

(4) A single multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail shall be constructed by the applicant with the following construction and design standards .. :

[1] The trail shall have a width of at least 10 feet along the length of the Mohawk River shoreline and shall endeavor to be located reasonably adjacent to the undeveloped shoreline whenever practicable.

[2] There shall be an additional two feet of graded area on either side of the trail and an additional ten-foot buffer between the trail and the river.

[3] The trail shall be constructed of asphalt, synthetic composite, concrete, pavers, or other materials as approved by the Planning Commission.

[4] Trails and esplanades may include landscaped areas, sitting areas, benches, gazebos and suitable lighting facilities.

At no place has the required 12-foot buffer been installed on the riverside of the Trail. There also is no place for any sitting areas, benches, etc., along the riverbank side of the trail.

Also, the New York State Department of Transportation has issued guidelines to apply when a bike trail is near a steep slope. If the slope is less than 4.92 feet from the Trail, a safety rail 4.59′ high is required. The design requirements of State DOT depicted in the following  image appear to be directly applicable to the Mohawk Harbor trail, given the steepness of the slope and the drop of far more than the 0.3 meters [0.98 ft.] over the slope:

NYSDOT-ShareUseRailingSlope

Despite any expectations created by the above materials, the next set of photos shows what the ALCO Heritage Trail actually looks like, as do photos in the top collage:

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IMG_8691 . . IMG_8688

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With only a loose gravel buffer of 3.5′ to 7′ on the river side of the trail (rather than the required 12 feet of graded buffer), and a very steep slope covered with sharp, rip-rap rocks, without guardrails installed, it certainly does not look safe enough to me.  Part of my concern, of course, in addition to the normal mishaps on a busy shared use path, is the fact that the Trail passes within a couple yards of casino, restaurant and barroom patios, whose patrons will not all be sober, as well as by the Mohawk Harbor Marina and amphitheater.

CasinoRearFromBridge30May2018 copy-001

. . above: ALCO Heritage Trail seen, with zoom lens, from Freeman’s Bridge (May 29, 2018) ..

Nonetheless, because I am neither a bike-ped trail planner nor engineer, I decided to share my concerns with Paul Winkeller, the long-time Executive Director of the New York State Bicycling Coalition, to see if my concerns were valid. I sent Paul an email containing the collage at the top of this post and a few other photos. Paul wrote back the next day and forwarded my materials to a few other NYBC Board members, including Emeritus Board Member Ivan Vamos, a retired engineer and official for several relevant New York State agencies, who spent a few decades helping to implement bike trails and greenways. [read more on the backgrounds of Mr. Vamos and Mr. Winkeller, here.]

Engineer Ivan Vamos wrote back less than an hour after he received my forwarded inquiry, saying:

I agree, it looks like a bad solution for bicyclists and perhaps also for the handicapped with “walkers” and other aid devises. The rough gravel shoulder above the rip-rap was probably the selected solution to handle significant run-off from paved areas upslope; this was a cost-effective solution for that issue, versus a more sophisticated drainage plan.  The problem is that if a bike or other wheeled devise, women with high heeled shoes, or people with walking aids (like canes) stray on to the gravel, they will fall onto the sharp rip-rap.

I suggest a fence with “rub-rails” that keeps bicyclists of different heights and others on the trail. If observed use of the trail looks to attract a lot of strollers who tend to come to look at the River/harbor as part of their outing, it may be advisable to have the rail at a height that can be leaned on, benefiting walkers, but still giving some protection for bicyclists.

Screenshot_2018-06-20-09-00-31_kindlephoto-140184987

Although noting that he was not a planner or engineer, Executive Director Winkeller wrote, “Of course it does not look safe!” A few days later, he offered the assistance of New York Bicycling Coalition to Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen in designing a safe shared use path (and got no reply), and added that he hoped I would continue to press the safety concerns:

“This is the height of the cycling season which means higher trail use and more of a chance of crashes. This is not a safe design, of that we all agree.”

  • County Legislators Have Not Replied. After three weeks, I have had no reply from several County Legislators to questions I  had sent them about the timing of the official opening of the Trail and whether additional safety measures were planned. That was prior to my correspondence with NYCB.
  • Corporation Counsel Has Not Replied. At the end of May, I also wrote to Schenectady’s Corporation Counsel, Carl Falotico, informing him of the comments from NYCB leaders, and asking whether the developers had received some sort of waiver from the Zoning Code requirements for the Harbor Trail. Three weeks later, I have not received a substantive reply from Mr. Falotico, who promised a reply when he was “ready to schedule a meeting” on the issues.
  • update (Oct. 4, 2018): More than four months later, I have yet to receive any substantive reply from the City’s Legal Department, the County Legislature of Law Department, or Metroplex, nor any suggestion as to why/how the specific requirements of our Riverfront zoning code for this specific trail could be ignored when constructing the trail.
  • Jennifer Ceponis, of the Capital District Transportation Committee, raised the issue at a Committee meeting on June 12, 2018. Jennifer reported that the City of Schenectady was “working on the problem.”

Bicyclists are already using the ALCO Heritage Trail, which connects Glenville’s Freedom Bridge road and Erie Boulevard with a riverside trail now ending at River Street in the East Front Street neighborhood, and then the Stockade. The CDPHP Bike Share program recently installed a bike share station at Mohawk Harbor, adding to the number of cyclists using the Harbor’s shared-use trail. Summer concerts at the Marina’s amphitheater, drawing audiences in the thousands, and other Harbor and Casino events will also increase the number of pedestrians using the Trail.

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If the information above leaves you wondering about the safety of the ALCO Heritage Trail, or the  process that has created a shared-use path quite different from our expectations, please let County and City legislators, and staffers working on bicycle planning and implementation know of your concerns.

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  • questionmarkkeyBW$$? FINANCING THE TRAIL: The City of Schenectady C-3 Waterfront District zoning code, as quoted above, states that the pedestrian and bicycle trail “shall be constructed by the applicant.” (emphasis added) Nonetheless, the County and Maxon Alco (the Galesi Group company that owns Mohawk Harbor) entered a Harbor Trail Easement Agreement in March 2016 stating,  “The parties agree that the maximum cost to Maxon Alco for the construction of the Trail shall not exceed $100,000.00. County shall be responsible for all costs and expenses for Trail construction which exceed the Maxon Alco Contribution.” 
    • Any additional expense to build the trail, perhaps over a million dollars, is coming from New York and County taxpayers.
    • In a March 2016 news article in the Albany Times Union, the Galesi Group bragged about “donating $100,000” to the cost of the Trail.
    • Maintenance. The Harbor Trail Easement Agreement also states that:

      “4. Maintenance of the Trail. Following construction of the Trail and the commencement of the Uses, Maxon Alco agrees to perform the non-structural maintenance including snowplowing and removal of debris/litter from the Trail. County shall be responsible for all other Trail maintenance, including any required repair or replacement of the Trail pavement/surface and all the Trail fencing, signage, striping and other trail related materials located upon the Easement Areas.”

    • The original C-3 Waterfront Mix-ed Use District provisions included the following sentence, which was removed in the 2015 amendments requested by the Developer: “All maintenance of the waterfront esplanade and amenities shall be the responsibility of the developer.” The original permanent, perpetual easement “assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront” was, of course, also removed at the “request” of the developer.
  • Taxpayer-funded Amenity: Having a shared-use path running through Mohawk Harbor is clearly an asset in selling and renting homes in the complex, and attracting tourists to its hotels. Thus, the short list of Extras on the Amenities page of the project’s River House apartments includes “Direct access to the NYS Hike Bike Trail.” In Philadelphia, Rush Street Gaming has spent millions of dollars to expand an already grand promenade and bike trail. Do our local leaders need more training in negotiating on behalf of our residents and taxpayers?
  • IMG_8698 . . . img_8681.jpg update (Oct. 4, 2018): A set of informational markers were recently installed along the ALCO Heritage Trail. See “Trail markers highlight locomotive plant’s heritage” (Albany Times Union, Sept. 21, 2018, by Tim Blydenburgh). The TU article states, “The county Department of Economic Development and Planning built the signs using $30,000 provided by the county Legislature.  Paul Singer Design, based in Brooklyn, designed the 11 trail markers.”
    • The signs are also worrisome from a safety perspective, as they seem to be placed much closer than necessary to the shared-use path, creating a hazard for pedestrians stopping to read the signs and for cyclists. When this safety point was made to Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, he wrote back “We think the markers look great.”

p.s. You may recall my first Infamy Montage which “celebrated” the opening of Rivers Casino on the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre, when only Snowmen guarded the open gate of the Stockade (while the assigned guards relaxed at a nearby pub), allowing a band of French soldiers and marauding Indians to burn down the Stockade.  Below is my 2nd Infamy Montage below, which suggests that having Snowmen at the Gates of our City has led to an unseemly, unsafe, riverbank, trail, and harbor scene.

BikeTrailInfamy

 follow-up (June 26, 2018): At a public meeting on June 21, 2018 (on the Extension Feasibility Study for the riverfront trail), Schenectady County Metroplex Authority chair Ray Gillen, told the author of this posting that there will be a fence or rail put up along the slope near the ALCO Heritage Trail in Mohawk Harbor. Given this acknowledgement of the possible safety hazard, I wondered whether any temporary safety measures were taken along the Trail — such as yellow tape or safety cones — in anticipation of the first Harbor Jam outdoor concert last Saturday, June 23, at the Amphitheater of Mohawk Harbor, which is across a lawn from the riverbank.

  • follow-up: When taking photos from Riverside Park of the Casino’s July 3 fireworks, using a powerful zoom lens, I saw — as would be expected — a line of people of all ages and sizes standing along the top of the slope in the dark and gazing out over the River at the fireworks.

why not? . . cautiontaperoll . . orangesafetycone

There were no such temporary safety measures Saturday afternoon. At about 3 or 4 cents a yard, what excuse is there for not stringing Caution Tape? Is this another case of our fearless leaders avoiding bad publicity at any cost — and at any risk?

Moreover, apparently due to heavy rain earlier that day, the gravel  between the Trail and the slope was slippery underfoot. When trying to shoot a photo from the gravel, my foot sunk into it, and the gravel slipped toward and under some of the rip-rap stones at the top of the slope. In addition, I saw a full-grown man, while in conversation with another man while standing on the gravel buffer, absent-mindedly step up on the rip-rap on the edge of the slope behind the Casino. What do you supposed little boys and girls will do?

bum’s Rush needed

. . “get dose bums outta here!” . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[March 29 update:] 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.

The article continues, making Steck sound rather conflicted:

“While Steck declined to call the request by Rivers a bailout, he conceded he is not a big fan of casinos, arguing they are a tax on the poor and middle class.”

Moreover, good luck figuring out what State. Senator Jim Tedisco is thinking:

State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said that since Cuomo “has seemingly closed the door to any tax adjustment,” he believes “a more plausible approach would be to ask for marketing assistance with also a good portion to go toward property tax reduction for Schenectady and surrounding communities.”

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Issue:

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

The Stakes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RiversDPCasinoWindfall

Rivers Des Plaines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poker strategy stumbles along the Mohawk (with updates)

 . . Rivers Casino Poker Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RiversRevs28Apr2017

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivers revenues down 4th straight week (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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what do those Casino revenue figures mean?

OPEN LETTER to the SCHENECTADY GAZETTE and Other Capital Region Media

. . and see March 10 update below . .

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

Dear Schenectady Gazette and Local Media editors and reporters:

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

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

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

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

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


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

plungegraphsmY

trends?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RiversCasino05Mar2017Revs

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

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

a good start for Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2017

npgam_logo_h_cmyk_arrow-colorcorrected-v2 

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

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

That 2016 Awareness Month post argued that:

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

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

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

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

The opening paragraphs of the NYRPP announcement, state:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Rivers Casino will open February 8, 2017

casinosignalot

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

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

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

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

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

 img_2605

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

img_2598

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

bait-and-switch along the Mohawk

CasinoPylon-Jan2016-001 update (December 18, 2015): According to an article in the Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson, “Casino sign plan to be submitted to city in ’16” (Dec. 13, 2015), a new design for the pylon sign will soon be unveiled:

As it stands now, the pylon sign is generally framed on two sides by a contiguous white vertical and horizontal band and does not feature any glass, as was previously discussed. It’s unclear if that white band will be lit.

pylonbait  bait . . . switch vshapemock-1

pylonsitecomparison

– above: [L] the Casino’s pylon “bait” rendering and [R] my amateurish but more accurate Switch mock-ups –

You’ve probably seen the Rush Street rendering of its proposed pylon sign shown on the Left above; it’s a 2-sided, rectangular monolith parallel to Erie Boulevard (note: the street indications were added by me, and not indicated by the Casino on their rendering).  On the right is my crude mock-up of the actual approved pylon: “v-shaped” with a giant 611 sq. ft. LCD screen on each wing of the vee. Because Rush Street never submitted a sketch, much less a detailed rendering of the real design and its orientation toward Erie Boulevard and Nott and Front Streets, and neither your Schenectady Planning Commission nor its Staff ever asked for the highly important documentation as part of its Site Plan Review, my awkward mockups are all we have for now. The uncertainty has led me to construct this QQ Pylon Collage:

V-ShapedPylonQQ

SneakyPylonChangesWThe surprise of a siamese-twin v-shaped pylon structure is, of course, in addition to the bait-and-switch elements we pointed out on Friday July 24 in a follow-up to our posting announcing the approval of the Casino Site Plan. The Planning Commission, without mentioning it, approved a version of the casino pylon that is

  • boxier (no narrow light-box “lantern” at the top),
  • brighter (a pure white background on the Rivers branding section of the pylon, instead of black, but with no Visual Impact Statement provided or demanded for any version),
  • taller by perhaps 6 or 7 feet (having been raised to 80′ by removing the “lantern”), and
  • wider (39′, instead of an already excessive width of 38′).

. . . than the versions shown to the public. Click on the collage to the Right of this paragraph for the details.

The following image sums up the various bait-n-switch elements:

B&Scollage

In words, here are the basic bait and switch elements (there may be more as yet not revealed by Rush Street or their City Hall handmaidens):

  • Pylon-FrontSt The Bait: A two-sided, monolith, rectangular pylon structure, 80 feet by 38 feet, with one giant LCD screen 19 feet by 32 feet, topped by a narrow “lantern/chimney” about 7 feet tall, which is sitting over a 14.5-foot tall Rivers Casino “branding” sign that has a black background, all shown positioned parallel to Erie Boulevard, at the intersection of Front St. and Nott St. (As explained in Comments to the Planning Commission and in several postings, the original design was far too tall and wide, and its monster digital LCD screen far too distracting and bright, for the location and for Schenectady in general. But, even worse, we have instead. . . )
  • VShapeMock The Switch: First presented and approved at the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission site plan review special meeting: An 80′ by 39′ pylon façade, in an unexplained and never-depicted v-shape configuration, without a slimming “lantern” on top, and with its branding sign now having a much brighter white background and raised to the top of the 80′ structure, far more prominent in the sky.  In addition, there will be a second 611 sq. ft. monster LCD screen, with one aimed at traffic reaching Nott Street and Erie Boulevard from the east, and one aimed at traffic coming up Erie Boulevard from the west.
40by19v

each wing 35′ x 24′

What would a v-shaped pylon of the size contemplated by Rush Street look like, and “feel” like at that location? It is hard to know, given the failure of the Applicant to supply a rendering or sketch and of the Commission or its staff to demand this crucial piece of site plan documentation. Our search has found nothing similar in front of a casino on this planet.  The “sample” v-shaped pylon to the left of this blurb is by a Polish firm that says the steel girders can be up to 9 meters high, and each advertising sign 2.5 m. by 6 meters.  That would make each wing of the “v” in the photo perhaps 35 feet tall and 24 feet wide. Also note, the branding section on top is not illuminated from the inside and there are no giant digital displays.

  • Thank you to the Albany Times Union for printing my Commentary on the pylon, “Exempting rules a bad sign indeed” (August 4, 2015). It is a TU-Plus article, which requires a paid subscription to reach directly online. You can see a draft submitted by me to the TU Editorial page Editor, by clicking on this pdf. file, “A huge, homely and hazardous casino sign.”

p.s. Have some fun with the kids or grandpa, and make your own Pylonicus-V design:

pylonicus-v

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riverscasinodesigns Follow-up (Feb. 11, 2017): Speaking of bait-n-switch, see our posting “where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?” (Feb. 9, 2017).

a Pylon Precis (too big, too bright, too much)

  We’ve posted a lot at this website about the immense proposed Schenectady Casino pylon. This posting is an attempt to provide our readers (including the Schenectady Planning Commission and staff) with a fairly pithy summary. To wit, as explained a bit more below, we believe the proposed pylon colossus is too big and too bright for Schenectady and its visitors, especially at the proposed location near Nott and Front Streets, Erie Boulevard, and the planned traffic rotary. [update: click here for a pdf version of Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015; also, “bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015).]

– Two collages sum up our main factual points; first:

NoSTSExcuseE

– click on each collage for a larger version –

However, some casino boosters (and regulators), might say: “Haven’t Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko and other Rush Street representatives been telling the Planning Commission, the Mayor, and the press, all year that an 80′ pylon sign was absolutely needed due to the casino being unseen behind the STS Steel building?” Yes, they have been constantly making that claim. And, it is not true:

NoSTSExcuseS

We believe the Schenectady Planning Commission has the duty and authority in its §264-89 Site Plan review of the Rivers Casino site plan to refuse to approve the proposed size, location, and design elements of the casino’s pylon. Although they exempted casino signage from the Zoning Code’s Art. IX signage regulations, the amendments this year to the C-3 District rules nonetheless specifically required Site Plan Review of casino signage by the Planning Commission.  Thus, as amended, §264-14(H) states:

“Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”

Protestations by Commissioners and the Planning Staff that their “hands are tied” regarding the size and design, much less the location, of the pylon have no basis in the law, and frankly stoke the fear that applying a rubberstamp and rushing through Rush Street’s requests have become the modus operandi of the Commission (even if not the personal preference of individual members). As stated in Comments to the Commission on June 17, 2015 (by this site’s editor):

Even if the Applicantʼs pylon proposal is within the C-3 pylon height and signage maximum limits, this Commission has the authority and responsibility when performing a site plan review (under Zoning Law, §264-89 et seq.) to assure:

  • proper vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and safety, including impact on intersections and traffic controls;
  • proper location, arrangement, size, design and general site compatibility of lighting and signs;
  • maximum retention of existing vegetation; and
  • protection of adjacent or neighboring properties against glare or unsightliness or other objectionable features.

The two-sided pylon signage structure proposed by Rush Street Gaming for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is:

  • too large in both height and width, with an LCD message screen far too big and bright, to be so near crucial intersections, including the planned new (and unique for Schenectady County) traffic rotary, and the entranceway and exits of the Casino compound and Mohawk Harbor; see our discussion and outline of the electronic message screen safety factors at tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors
  • too close to residences (e.g., East Front Street homes and Union College’s largest dormitory a block away, as well as condos, town-homes and apartments planned at Mohawk Harbor)

Thorough and objective application of Schenectady’s Site Plan standards should, we believe, require the Planning Commission to reject the proposed pylon or approve it with adequate and specific restrictions as to size (both height and width), brightness, proximity to roadways and residences, and use and size of LCD displays. Refusing to approve the pylon as proposed is particularly appropriate, given the failure of Rush Street to provide renditions of the structure showing its precise location in relationship to roadways and the rest of the casino compound and other Mohawk Harbor buildings, parking lots, etc. Furthermore, with no Visual Impact Analysis, including a line of sight survey, indicating where and how the pylon sign will be visible in the day or the night, the Commissioners do not have sufficient information to make responsible decisions about a monumental sign that would dominate our skyline and surely become the symbol of Schenectady to the rest of the world.

– share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/PylonPrecis

red check For amplification of the points made above, see the postings and materials listed in the Pylon Directory at the top of our Pylon Envy posting.